Sepp Kuss is part of a loaded team expected to have multiple podium contenders, including race favorite Primož Roglic, at this year’s Vuelta a España.
Kuss, a 24-year-old from Durango, will compete in his second Spanish Vuelta and the third Grand Tour of his young cycling career when he lines up for Saturday’s time trial to start the 21-day race that will include stages in Andorra, France and Spain.
It is the last of the three Grand Tours this season, and he will join Jumbo-Visma teammates Roglic, who was third at the Giro d’Italia with Kuss riding in support, and Steven Kruijswijk, who was third at this year’s Tour de France, in his team’s pursuit of the red jersey awarded to the race’s overall winner.
“I’m sure happy to be here,” Kuss said Friday in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “Originally, (Roglic) was going to do the Tour de France after the Giro, but he skipped the Tour and went ahead with full (general classification) focus for this race. The team needed as many climbers and GC guys to help with that goal.
“Out of the Vuelta and Giro, the Vuelta suits me the best. It’s hot, but it’s a bit more relaxed of a race. There’s a lot of different terrain, and the Spanish fans are so welcoming. But it’s not an easy race, for sure. They always find some crazy goat track to go up, and there are some spectacular stages.”
This 74th edition of the Vuelta will feature eight summit finishes and several more uphill endings before it reaches the final flat stage Sept. 15 in Madrid. In all, the peloton will complete 2,033.3 miles. It is the especially grueling mountain days Kuss looks forward to the most. Those days include Stage 9 in the Pyrenees Mountains of Andorra, where he now resides. That will feature four big climbs across only 60 miles, with one climb of more than 6,500 feet. Stage 13 will feature some of the steepest climbs at Los Machucos, while Stages 15 and 16 will offer seven Category 1 climbs across a combined 186 miles. Those will likely decide the overall winner.
“Los Machucos, it’s just crazy steep. That will be one of the exciting days,” Kuss said. “Stage 9 in Andorra, I’ve been training there the last few weeks and ridden those roads. It’s kind of a home race for me now. I almost wish I didn’t know the roads so I didn’t know what was coming, that kind of thing. It’s tough.”
Last year, Kuss made his Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta only weeks after he won the Tour of Utah with three stage wins on the toughest climbing stages. It was a sharp learning curve, as Kuss admitted he went a little too hard the opening half of the Vuelta and struggled during the second half. It wasn’t without some impressive rides, as he staged solo attacks and even earned a top-10 finish on the seventh stage.
This year at the Giro, Kuss kept those learning lessons in mind during his rookie ride at Italy’s Grand Tour. He helped Roglic to the podium and finished 56th overall. Only a week later, he lined up at Critérium du Dauphiné in France and was impressive in the one-week event. He finished 26th overall, was third in the best young rider classification and finished the week with a fifth-place finish on the final stage.
After some time back in Colorado to recover and train at altitude, Kuss returned to Europe and moved to Andorra, where he could tackle tough mountain climbs every day in training. He competed at the one-day Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian on Aug. 3 in Spain, and he was the top finisher from the Jumbo-Visma team, as he placed 25th after a strong performance.
“I felt really good after the Giro and Dauphiné, and it was good to be able to come home, reset a bit and train quite a bit,” Kuss said. “I came back to Europe, did San Sebastian and felt really good there. I’m never sure how I’m going to feel after a long time of not heavy racing, but I’m ready to get back into it. I’ve been in Andorra training with a couple of teammates, and I feel really good mentally and physically.”
Kuss can feel the buzz around his team this week with a pair of podium contenders who are also backed up by New Zealand’s George Bennett, Germany’s Tony Martin, Dutch riders Robert Gesink and Lennard Hofstede as well as American Neilson Powless.
Nice location for a team presentation pic.twitter.com/vQSGvLbf2C— Team Jumbo-Visma cycling (@JumboVismaRoad) August 23, 2019
Earlier in the week, it was announced Tom Dumoulin had joined Jumbo-Visma from Team Sunweb going into next season. It is clear the Dutch-based team is eager to build on its first Tour de France podium finish and the success at the Giro from Roglic going into 2020, and Kuss signed an extension with the team through the 2021 season earlier this year.
“For me, it’s real exciting,” Kuss said. “It’s cool to be part of that momentum. You notice the little things this week like the spirit around the team. You can see everything coming together and how people want to be part of the team. Adding a rider like (Dumoulin), it’s another guy I have a lot to learn from and hopefully can ride for in a lot of races.”
With three Grand Tour starts now in his first two years competing on a World Tour team, Kuss is excited about the future but more eager to get this year’s Vuelta started.
“The longest part of a Grand Tour is the week before and waiting for it to start,” he said. “The race goes by crazy fast once you’re into it. The hardest days are when you’re waiting around. I’m ready for action. The thing with Vuelta is there is always action.”