With his tongue out and a pained grin on his face, Durango’s Sepp Kuss took to the front of the Tour de France for the first of eight summit finishes of the 21-day race.
Kuss, 25, executed a perfect leadout ride for Team Jumbo-Visma teammate Primož Roglic, and the Slovenian star would claim the Stage 4 victory Tuesday after 97 miles with the summit finish at Orcières-Merlette, which stands a little more than 5,900 feet.
Roglic’s winning time was 4 hours, 7 minutes, 47 seconds. Tour leader Julian Alaphilippe of France and the Deceuninck-Quick Step team finished fifth in the same time, which kept him in the leader’s yellow jersey for at least one more day.
Kuss would go on to finish 19th, nine seconds behind Roglic’s winning time after a job well done.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Kuss said in a post-stage interview with NBC Sports. “It takes me a little while to work into a race like this, but on stages like this, I’m definitely more switched on, and I know that I have a real job to help the guys.”
With a little more than three miles to go, it was Jumbo-Visma’s Wout van Aert who set the pace at the front of the lead group with Roglic, Dumoulin and Kuss all in position behind him. Van Aert maintained a stunning pace that would not allow for any breakaway attempts by any of the team’s rivals.
With a little more than half a mile to go, Van Aert dropped back. It was then Kuss’ turn to set the tempo up the final 1,000 yards of the climb. As Kuss jumped to the front of the lead group, Roglic got on his wheel. No other rider had a teammate to help set up a final sprint, including defending Tour de France champion Egan Bernal and his mighty Ineos Grenadiers team.
In the final turn, Roglic sprinted to the outside and pedaled to a comfortable stage victory after Kuss set him up perfectly.
“I think, just at the end, we came together, and yeah, I mean Quick Step was riding for the yellow jersey, of course. They did a great job controlling the stage,” Kuss said. “We did what we could in the end to make it a good climb for Primož and Tom (Dumoulin).”
Bernal never seemed to have a chance to go with the Jumbo-Visma team, though he finished the stage seventh and remained only 17 seconds behind the overall lead in sixth place.
“The Jumbo-Visma train was really hard to follow,” Alaphilippe told the Associated Press.
Roglic moved into third place overall. He is seven seconds behind Alaphilippe. Jumbo-Visma’s Tom Dumoulin also maintained position in seventh overall after he was 11th on Stage 4 in the same time as Roglic.
Roglic showed he is in fine form coming off a crash at Critérium du Dauphiné less than two weeks ago.
“It was a fast and quite difficult stage. The guys always kept me in a good position,” Roglic said in a Jumbo-Visma news release. “Everyone was very strong. In the end. I was able to deliver a nice sprint. I am very happy with that. We all arrived safely and we won. We must continue on this path. I feel better every day. In the second stage, I already felt that it is all good.”
After playing it cool the first three days, it became clear Tuesday that Jumbo-Visma is not afraid to attack early in this Tour de France.
The next mountain stage will not come until Saturday with flat stages Wednesday and Friday and a hilly stage Thursday. It will be back to back days in the mountains this weekend before the first rest day Monday.
“It’s a fantastic day for the team,” Dumoulin said in the news release. “Primož showed his class once again. He was really good, and he also indicated that he wanted to win. The team was incredibly strong today. You can see that in the leadout of Wout and Sepp. I didn’t feel really well today. In the end, it was a fight to reach the finish line. Fortunately, I was able to keep up with the first group. I hope I can improve my level in the coming days.”