The fifth stage of the 2018 Amgen Tour of California didn’t follow the same route as a year ago when Durango’s Sepp Kuss had a breakout performance with a 10th-place finish after an epic climb up Mt. Baldy.
This year’s fifth stage saw only 2,500 feet of climbing. Durango’s Kuss, 23, finished 95th in Thursday’s 109.7-mile route around Stockton. The climbing prospect, who is in his first year with the Team LottoNL-Jumbo WorldTour team based out of the Netherlands, will target Friday’s massive climbing stage for his best result of the week-long International Cycling Union (UCI) WorldTour event in California. He sits 51st in the general classification standings in a combined time of 17 hours, 14 minutes, 48 seconds, 19:19 back of the lead held by American Tejay Van Garderen of BMC Racing. Still, Kuss has a 1:52 lead on world champion Peter Sagan and a larger advantage on some of the top names in the race’s field.
“On a personal results level, it hasn’t been a super great week, but we’ve got some guys riding well,” Kuss said in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “I’ve been trying to help those guys out this week. I haven’t really had the fitness to be up there where I’d like to be, but that’s how it is sometimes. I’ll hope for maybe a breakaway tomorrow and help the GC guys out however I can.”
Kuss finished Thursday’s stage in 4:06:43. A big crash a few miles from the finish line caused havoc, but Colombia’s Fernando Gaviria Rendon sprinted to the win in 4:04:34. Australia’s Caleb Ewan was second, and Sagan of Slovakia was third. Kuss said he seemed to be around all the crashes but was able to avoid trouble.
Van Garderen maintained the race’s overall lead and the yellow jersey, as he finished 32nd in the same time as Rendon.
Kuss was 107th in Wednesday’s 21.6-mile time trial stage, which was a loop in and around Morgan Hill and San Jose. He crossed the finish line in 46:49, which was 6:02 back of the winning time of Van Garderen, as he took over the yellow jersey after his strong ride.
Saturday’s Stage 6 is the toughest stage of the seven-day race. It will feature nearly 16,000 feet of climbing across the 123-mile route with an uphill finish at Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe.
“It’s a bit different finish than last year on Mt. Baldy,” Kuss said. “Going south to north this year is definitely different than last year’s north and south, but overall the course is pretty balanced and similar to the overall dynamic from a year ago.”
Saturday’s final stage is 88.9 miles with virtually no climbing with a circuit finish in Sacramento.
Kuss sits in 23rd in the best young rider standings, 18:56 off the lead held by Colombia’s Egan Arley Bernal Gomez of Team Sky. Bernal led the GC through the first two stages. He is also tied with Cuba’s Ruben Companioni in the King of the Mountain standings with Latvia’s Toms Skujins and Poland’s Rafal Majka, only two points back going into Friday’s stage that will feature four KOM sections.
After California, Kuss will return to Europe for the Critérium du Dauphiné in France as well as some training, then he will return to the U.S. for the national championships and the Tour of Utah as well as the Colorado Classic in August.
“This year has been a big step up just going from mostly U.S. races to some of the harder races in the WorldTour,” Kuss said. “A lot of it is me getting my head kicked in, but it’s a trial by fire. It’s a good experience, and I’m certainly on an amazing team for developing and learning how to race. I’ll keep learning and come back stronger.”