South African Daryl Impey celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the ninth stage of the Tour de France on Sunday. Photo: Christophe Ena/AP
South African Daryl Impey celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the ninth stage of the Tour de France on Sunday. Photo: Christophe Ena/AP
Daryl Impey celebrates on the podium after his Tour de France stage win on Sunday. Photo: Thibault Camus/AP
Daryl Impey celebrates on the podium after his Tour de France stage win on Sunday. Photo: Thibault Camus/AP
Daryl Impey sports a medal after winning the ninth stage of the Tour de France. Photo: Thibault Camus/AP
Daryl Impey sports a medal after winning the ninth stage of the Tour de France. Photo: Thibault Camus/AP

BRIOUDE, France – On days at the Tour de France when the top racers decide to take it easy, that’s the signal for other riders not chasing the overall title to seize the opportunity to shine.

On Sunday, Daryl Impey was that man.

Profiting from what amounted to a go-slow among top contenders on Stage 9, who decided to chill on the hilly trek across the Massif Central mountains, Impey made sure that he was in the breakaway group of riders who scooted away after the start in Saint-Etienne.

He then beat Belgian rider Tiesj Benoot in a two-man sprint at the finish in the agricultural town of Brioude.

“It’s such a lottery trying to make the break,” Impey said. “Luck was on my side.”

Favourites for the Tour title in Paris on July 28 cruised into Brioude more than 16 minutes later, so casually that some chatted and drank from water bottles.

French rider Julian Alaphilippe, who’d been cheered on by roadside fans celebrating France’s Bastille Day holiday, kept the race lead and there were no changes of note in the positions of other top contenders, including defending champion Geraint Thomas.

He is still fifth overall, 72 seconds behind Alaphilippe.

“It’s just amazing, the support from the public,” Alaphilippe said. “It’s a day I will never forget.”

After a harrowing and exhausting Stage 8, and with tough climbs to come in the Pyrenees and, later, in the Alps, top contenders took a breather on the 170.5km stage of undulating hills peppered with three climbs of note.

Impey is only the second South African stage winner at the Tour – Robert Hunter also won a stage in 2007.

“Magical,” he said. “A beautiful day.”

Impey pointed to the South African flag printed on his jersey as he crossed the line.

He was part of a 14-man group – later joined by a 15th rider – that rode away shortly after the stage start.

“Pretty much, for me, from a Tour de France perspective, a stage win was something really missing. I made quite a few breakaways in the past few years and finally, today, I got the win on Bastille Day. It’s fantastic,” Impey said.

“It’s a dream come true. It’s so difficult to win at this level. I kind of marked this stage. I was kind of lucky to find the right move. We worked all well together.

“I’m glad the legs were there at the end to beat Tiesj Benoot. I haven’t been emotional like that for a long time.”

Because none of the breakaway riders were contenders for the Tour title, Alaphilippe and other top riders allowed them to get away and build up the biggest lead of any breakaway at this Tour.

The stage victory was Impey’s first in seven Tours. He also held the race lead for two days at the Tour of 2013.

The field of 172 riders that took the start in the former coal mining centre of Saint-Etienne was quickly reduced to 171, when Italian rider Alessandro de Marchi of the CCC team crashed heavily a few kilometres into the stage.

AP, Reuters