Chris Horner: Jumbo-Visma backed Sepp Kuss in Vuelta a España due to fans' outcry and PR nightmare

Last male US Grand Tour winner backs Kuss for future leadership and believes he should stay at Jumbo-Visma but that Roglič should leave

Clock12:07, Sunday 17th September 2023
Chris Horner and Sepp Kuss have won the Vuelta a España 10 years apart

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Chris Horner and Sepp Kuss have won the Vuelta a España 10 years apart

Sepp Kuss is set to ride into Madrid on Sunday as the first male US Grand Tour winner since Chris Horner won the Vuelta a España a decade ago, and the former pro believes that Kuss’ Vuelta success can kick the American racing scene back into life.

Horner, who now runs his own dedicated Youtube channel, also adamantly believes that Jumbo-Visma only decided to back Kuss after the team faced a huge public backlash following Primož Roglič’s and Jonas Vingegaard’s repeated attacks on their teammate in the mountains.

The situation reached fever pitch on the Angliru on stage 17 after the three riders went clear of all their remaining rivals, only for Roglič to attack with Vingegaard in his wheel. Kuss was unable to follow but limited his losses to retain a slender lead overall.

After that controversial episode, both Roglič and Vingegaard changed tactics and began to defend Kuss through the remaining stages.

"The management at Jumbo only turned the page because there was an outcry from fans and a PR nightmare that Jumbo were going through," Horner told GCN in a phone interview from his home in the US.

"That’s why they turned the page. They didn’t turn the page because Angliru was done. It was a nightmare scenario. They were having meetings before the race, during the race, after the race, and then before everyone went to bed. They were probably having their alarm clocks go off at 2am for another meeting.

"If you want to believe the PR stuff they’re feeding you, then you can, but there was a lot of pressure there for Sepp [to win] and the team eventually came around."

'Sepp is an amazing ambassador for the sport on the US side'

The significance of a new US Grand Tour winner certainly isn’t lost on Horner, whose victory at the 2013 Vuelta made him the first official US rider to win a three-week race since Greg LeMond in 1990. Given the struggles that the domestic cycling scene in the US is currently facing, especially on the road with a spate of team closures and a lack of racing, Kuss’ success has the potential to ignite a fire under a fanbase that has craved a Grand Tour winner for years.

"I hope to see that this gives US racing a kick and that we see sponsors come back. You can get more US teams finding sponsorship instead of having just Lidl-Trek and EF Education-EasyPost, who don’t have that many Americans on the team, and it could possibly bring in more sponsors and help the sport grow," Horner said.

"The racing scene in the US is drowning or at best its nose is over the water. Hopefully this brings out the exposure but it does take a few years because it doesn’t happen immediately. But it gives the US that ability to look at Sepp Kuss winning and it just highlights the stuff I’ve said in that we’ve got these talented riders, it’s just that they happen to ride for Jumbo and UAE."

According to Horner, it’s not just Kuss’ on-the-bike achievements that are worthy of toasting, but his character and professionalism, too.

"I think that Sepp Kuss is an amazing ambassador for the sport on the US side," he said.

"His character is just such a joy to watch, with how he dedicates his success to the team, and it’s really remarkable how he races. When I was racing, back in my day, I loved racing for the team and that’s why you can see me talk about it on my channel.

"I was so upset with the way Jumbo were treating him because throughout my career it was always about your team winning and sharing wins. It hit a spot on the heart when his teammates were attacking him but I love that Sepp is winning. He’s a fantastic guy."

'Sepp should stay put'

Jumbo-Visma’s Vuelta a España podium shutout has led to rumour and speculation surrounding the future of all three riders at the top of the standings. The trio are locked in for several years with their current contracts but that hasn’t stopped Roglič and Kuss being linked with moves to rival teams.

The Dutch team have been at pains to stress that there is a happy and willing collective and Horner does not understand why Kuss would seek a transfer unless the conditions on another team were absolutely perfect for him.

According to Horner, the Vuelta leader will get another opportunity to lead the team and he’s better making use of Jumbo’s strength than competing against it.

"I don’t think Sepp leaves Jumbo unless there’s an incredible opportunity because you’re going to need five to eight riders for GC to battle against Jumbo and UAE. If he goes to another team there’s going to be pressure put on him to beat those guys," Horner said.

"At the moment he doesn’t time trial like those guys do so he’s always going to be put on the backburner at Jumbo but at another team he’s always going to be fighting against those guys and they’re not going to let him go up the road and gain four minutes.

"If I was him, I wouldn’t go anywhere unless the option opened up where you had an amazing sponsorship programme that had the budget of UAE and Jumbo, and they were setting up an amazing squad. If he goes somewhere else, you have to battle Pogačar, and then of course Vingegaard and Roglič."

'Jumbo-Visma are heading for a fall-out'

Horner, who raced alongside the likes of Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong and Fabian Cancellara during his long career, can also envisage infighting and further drama within Jumbo-Visma as the team scramble to keep all of their stars content.

So far, the team’s strategy has just about held together but, with the three current Grand Tour champions, plus Wout van Aert and a host of other riders on the rise, Horner can see trouble brewing.

"Sepp has to wait for that opportunity where Roglič doesn’t show up at the Giro or in the Vuelta. Roglič isn’t going to do the Giro or the Vuelta and there’s going to be a fall-out at Jumbo-Visma," Horner said.

"If they’re not willing to bring both Jonas and Roglič to the Tour, I can’t imagine that we see Roglič stay on the team because he’s going to want a Tour de France win and he’s 34 soon.

"It would be a crime for Roglič to miss the Tour de France every year so that Jonas can win. If they don’t bring him to the Tour then Roglič might leave and we might see him bring Sepp with him. Sepp will have a shot at winning Grand Tours again but at the moment he just can’t pick when that day will be."

Watch every stage of the Vuelta a España live on GCN+, replays and highlights available on demand. Territory restrictions apply, check availability here. Keep up to date with all of the latest racing news from the Vuelta a España on our dedicated race page, linked here.

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