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Tour de France preview: The four African riders to watch

Daryl Impey will wear the South African flag with pride on his Mitchelton-Scott jersey after years of trying to win the national road race title in order to do so. PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

While Kenya-born Briton Chris Froome will hog most of the headlines during this year's Tour de France, Africa will be represented by four riders who will earn their kudos too.

None of Tsgabu Gebremaryam Grmay, Daryl Impey, Reinardt Janse van Rensburg or Jay Robert Thomson will feature in the battle for the iconic Maillot Jaune (yellow jersey) during the three-week Grand Tour, but their presence won't be under-appreciated by their teams.

DARYL IMPEY

Team: Mitchelton-Scott

Age: 34

Tour history: Five starts (2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017)

With five previous starts (all for his Australian team), Impey is South Africa's most experienced Tour de France rider and will forever have the honour as the country's 'first ever Tour leader' when he wore the iconic yellow jersey for two stages during the 2013 race.

Despite his pedigree, Impey won't have the freedom to ride for his own goals during this year's tour... not entirely anyway. Mitchelton-Scott have thrown their lot behind placing Adam Yates on the podium, if not better, and for that to happen Impey will be a key lieutenant.

Nonetheless, as an all-rounder with the ability to sprint among the fastest and climb with some of the professional peloton's leading 'mountain goats', Impey will get his chances to go for stage wins.

He is also in top form, having claimed the overall honours in the Tour Down Under which opened the 2018 season, and then claiming an opportunistic stage win during the Criterium du Dauphine last month.

Added motivation for the Johannesburg-born rider is that he will spend the three-week Grand Tour with the South Africa flag emblazoned across his chest, having won his first-ever national road race title in February (to go with his seven time trial wins).

TSGABU GEBREMARYAM GRMAY

Team: Trek-Segafredo

Age: 26

Tour history: Two starts (2016, 2017)

Tsgabu's American team have named both climber Bauke Mollema and sprinter John Degenkolb in their Tour de France roster, but their focus will be on Dutchman Mollema's general classification hopes over the German's chances against Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish et al.

That's where Tsgabu comes in. Mollema has three top-10 finishes at Le Tour, with a best finish of 6th in 2013 but will rely on Tsgabu as his chief super domestique -- the last man standing in support during high mountain stages -- in his efforts to crack the top-10 again in 2018.

The Ethiopian, who was born in the high-altitude city of Mek'ele (2400m above sea level), will be making his third straight Tour appearance, and has ridden both the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a EspaƱa previously, so will know what is required to fuel Mollema's ambitions.

REINARDT JANSE VAN RENSBURG

Team: Dimension Data for Qhubeka

Age: 29

Tour history: Three starts (2015, 2016, 2017)

If there was an MVP award during last year's Tour de France then Janse van Rensburg would have been a strong candidate for it. Despite losing Mark Cavendish following a crash on Stage 4, 'Reinie' continued to shine in his lead-out role to such a degree that Edvald Boasson Hagen was able to compete with the best sprinters around, despite the Norwegian not having the same all-out speed.

Janse van Rensburg, however, comes into this year's Tour short of the proverbial gallop. He underwent surgery to rectify a long-standing groin injury at the end of last year, then suffered a set-back during his rehabilitation earlier this year, missing the chance of defending his national road race title in February.

As such, picking him after only four events this year might look like a risk, but the 29-year-old from Virginia has shown glimpses that he has not lost any of his speed and power, and will be critical to Cavendish's chances of honing in on Eddy Merckxx's record of 34 stage wins (Cav has 30).

That is even more so because the both the Manx Missile and his right-hand man Mark Renshaw have suffered their own injury and illness concerns this year, while the ever-dependable Bernhard Eisel has been ruled out altogether following brain surgery.

JAY ROBERT THOMSON

Team: Dimension Data for Qhubeka

Age: 32

Tour history: Debut

The Krugersdorp-born rider comes from a pedigreed family of cyclists and won the South African road race title in 2013, but if there's a rider on Africa's Team who puts others' needs above his own then it is Thomson.

Being chosen to make his Tour de France debut is not only a reward for his tireless efforts but because his 2018 form through the one-day classics and week-long tours deserves it. It is also a nod to how important a versatile rider like Thomson is, since the UCI reduced the max number of riders in a tour roster from nine to eight.

The 32-year-old is one the 'engines' of Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka, spending endless hours at the head of pack battling through headwind, rain and any other elements - often before the TV coverage beam live coverage across the world.

This all so that the team's nominated leader - Mark Cavendish, in this case - can be safeguarded and have the best chance of success on any given day.