Sepp Kuss: I think it's better for everybody that Roglič is on a different team

In an interview from his Vuelta winning parade, the American reflects on his departing teammate, what's to come in 2024 and the lessons he learned from his career-best season

Clock17:59, Saturday 21st October 2023
Kuss waving to the crowd during one of his many podium appearances at the Vuelta

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Kuss waving to the crowd during one of his many podium appearances at the Vuelta

For the last month Sepp Kuss has been out of the spotlight. As the rumour mill swirled around the mooted Soudal-Visma merger, Primož Roglič’s departure, and the sponsorship hunt for Jumbo-Visma team, Kuss has been on a much deserved vacation.

Now that the dust has settled, Kuss knows that his team's future is clear and that Roglič will be a rival and not a teammate.

“Primož brought our team to where it is now. He pushed everyone in the team to be their best and showed us that just doing well enough wasn't sufficient,” Kuss told a small group of media, including GCN, after his Vuelta victory parade in Durango, Colorado.

“I learned a lot from him, not necessarily from him teaching me things, but how he developed as a rider and what he learned. If your leader makes a mistake and you see him correct that mistake in a later race, you also learn from that.

“Seeing how he is as a racer, now, versus when he first started is really valuable and I would give him most of the credit from the riders side in terms of bringing the team to where it is now. But yeah, I think it's better for everybody that he is on a different team. Now he can go to a team and feel that support that he feels that he deserves and has everyone behind him.”

While Kuss wished Roglič all the best in his future endeavours, the polemic of the leadership struggle during the Vuelta was not lost on Kuss.

It seems as if the time away from the triumph solidified who Kuss saw as rivals and supporters during that tense final week of the Vuelta.

“You have to just focus on yourself, for better or for worse,” Kuss said. “I think there were lots of positions I put myself in during the Vuelta where I was still in the mindset of a teammate or a guy that didn't have that killer instinct.”

“It still worked for me and I was proud of how I did it, and how I handled it, but I also realised that a lot of the winners have a different mentality than me and I have to find that balance without losing who I am as a person.”

But it wasn’t just his own mentality that was sharpened from the stress of the inter-team rivalry. When asked about what he learned from his teammates during his time in the red jersey, Kuss revealed how Jonas Vingegaard was something of an example, even as it seemed - from the outside - that the Dane was a point of further contention.

“Jonas especially is more of a verbal leader anyways so it's more his nature, but he really coached me in certain situations,” Kuss said.

“From his experience, winning two Tours in a row, you have to be sharp everyday. He really helped me stay on top of things when I am normally checked out every day.”

Alas, the Vuelta, and the 2023 season as a whole, is now rapidly receding from cycling’s collective rearview mirror. Roglič is settling at Bora-Hansgrohe, Remco Evenepoel is staying with Soudal Quick-Step, and Lease a Bike will be added to the Visma sponsorship for the foreseeable future. Kuss is also gaining a teammate who hails from the same region of America: Matteo Jorgenson.

Read more: Matteo Jorgenson and the blessing of a lifetime of near-misses

While Jorgenson was not brought in as a replacement for Roglič – he was signed well before the Slovenian headed for the door – the American will be a massive boon for Kuss, Vingegaard and Wout van Aert, regardless of how the team divides their objectives.

“I don't know [Matteo Jorgenson] so well because I was never in the US development program during the same years as him, but we always chat during the race and he is a really good guy,” Kuss said of his younger countryman.

“I think he fits the team well. He is a rider who appreciates the process of getting better, regardless of the results, and I think he is going to be a really strong rider for us. And for me, for sure, he's going to be a good companion. He is also in a similar situation where he was on Movistar, a team with definitely not an American culture, so we come from similar understanding of our teams.”

Increased ambition for 2024

While Durango’s local news media is far more advanced in terms of cycling knowledge than your average mid-sized town in the United States, they are not immune to the draw that most American's have towards the Tour of France.

While Kuss was short of staking his claim to Tour de France leadership, the answers he did give signified that his outlook on his standing in the hierarchy of WorldTour Grand Tour riders has fundamentally changed.

“Even last year the original plan was to do the Tour and the Vuelta. It is always a combination that works well for me also because I am happy to be in a more helper role in the Tour because typically, depending on the route, it is not ideal for me," Kuss said.

"Last year was a bit of an exception. It was a good route for me and just by virtue of doing my job I was with the best guys in the GC for a while without even thinking about it. So we will see what the route is like with the Tour. Maybe it's something I can go for, but I think the Vuelta is more suited for me, parcours wise.”

Nevertheless, in the era of riders like Tadej Pogačar, Remco Evenepoel and now Roglič as rivals, Jumbo-Visma might be best suited for a strategy that accounts for a second GC option. At next year’s Tour, Pogačar has the potential – with a smooth build to the race – to be much closer to Vingegaard’s level. While it might be hard for Kuss to be on equal billing to Vingegaard, there is a compelling case that Kuss will need to be at the very least a peripheral threat to their rivals.

“Why not?” Kuss said of his prospects of being co-leader at the Tour in 2024.

“I think I can stay more concentrated in the race if I’m thinking ‘ok, Sepp don't just let off so easy.’"

“In the Vuelta, I was thinking during the first few stages that I would lose as much time as I could to save every ounce of energy, but then I felt good and didn't want to lose time just for the sake of losing time. Being in the GC role, or shadow GC role, just keeps me mentally sharp. Of course, I want to win or do my best and being in that shadow leader role is a good middle ground for me.”

Alas, ghosting one’s way into the yellow jersey is a wholly different process then finding oneself in the red jersey at the Vuelta. For one, there will be, almost certainly, a Tadej Pogačar to contend with. Secondly, there is freedom in not knowing. Kuss is now acutely aware of the demands and pressures involved with potentially winning a Grand Tour again.

“Now I know that I am capable of winning a Grand Tour and that gives me a lot of confidence,” Kuss said of what he learned through his 2023 campaign.

“I know I can take my body and my mind to that level, I can survive the three weeks of pressure and everything. But I also realise that when I won the Vuelta I was in a really unique situation where I never went into the race feeling any expectation or any leadership pressure.”

“I just did my best everyday and in the end if I failed nobody would have faulted me. But if you go to the race with pressure then it's a lot different. I think it's about finding the balance where I can get the best out of myself from that mental standpoint. But for sure it gives me more ambition to try and do it again.”

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