Sepp Kuss: I have to go into the Tour de France knowing I can win

Vuelta a España champion displays newfound confidence as he reflects on Primož Roglič's departure and looks forward to 2024

Clock19:00, Tuesday 7th November 2023
Sepp Kuss revealed in Singapore that he would target the Tour de France and Vuelta a España in 2024

© ASO (Danial Hakim)

Sepp Kuss revealed in Singapore that he would target the Tour de France and Vuelta a España in 2024

The Sepp Kuss that stands before the media at the Tour de France Prudential Singapore Criterium is a very different rider from the one who had spoken with uncertainty and intrigue ahead of starting his third Grand Tour of the season at the end of August.

Now a Grand Tour winner and a rider with new-found confidence, Kuss is a talent unlocked and looks ahead to 2024 with the self-belief that willed him through the storm at the Vuelta a España.

As GCN reported, Kuss revealed in Singapore that the Giro d'Italia would not be part of his racing calendar for next season.

Read more:

Instead, Kuss will turn his attention to the Tour de France and Vuelta a España, where he can arguably be counted among the favourites for victory in both. He has already won one Vuelta, of course, and he celebrated it in style by travelling home to Durango for a wholesome homecoming amongst his local community.

"It would be nice, but we will see," smiles Kuss when GCN float the possibility of returning home with a yellow jersey in tow this time next year. With his plans of riding the Tour next year now known, Kuss is asked more squarely: is it realistic for him to be a competitor for the win at the Tour de France?

It is a question that would probably have been laughed off by riders, staff and media alike this time last year, but now, the American responds with assured footing.

"It was never realistic to win the Vuelta either and in the end, it worked out," he rightly notes. "I am realistic of myself and what is possible. For sure I have to go into those races knowing that there is a possibility to win, and get the most out of myself."

With Jonas Vingegaard going in search of a third straight Tour de France title next July, Kuss certainly won't enjoy unfettered leadership of the Dutch superteam at the Tour, but he knows more than anybody that demanding sole leadership is by no means necessary to win a Grand Tour in the modern age.

"In certain races, I could [demand a protected role], but I also don’t think it is necessary to demand a protected role. Now in modern-day cycling especially, there are so many leaders in every team, especially in these top three or four teams, they can go to a race with three or four leaders. That is how cycling is now, as we saw from the Vuelta or other races, even if you’re not the main leader, you can still win."

With that being said, Kuss grew into the role of team leader throughout the Vuelta and now admits it is his preferred position, following years of offering his valued services to teammates.

"I definitely prefer being in the position of a leader and winning in the end, but only if I know that it is really worth it, or if I am really in the position to win, otherwise it is better to help someone that is better."

Maybe the Vuelta was the final turning point for Primož Roglič, proposes Kuss

Vingegaard will certainly be above Kuss in the pecking order for the Tour, but the departure of Primož Roglič to Bora-Hansgrohe will open the door to Kuss for more opportunities than he has been offered in the past. It was a move that stole headlines when it was announced, but Kuss sees the Slovenian's transfer as only natural given the team's burgeoning options.

"I think it could have multiple explanations," Kuss says in reference to Roglič's departure from Jumbo-Visma after eight seasons with the team. "Maybe the Vuelta was the final turning point but in the end, the Tour de France is the only race he hasn’t won and in order to win the Tour, oftentimes you have to be the sole leader and have the whole team behind you."

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"I think it was a normal direction for things to go," adds Kuss, whilst remaining adamant that there were no arguments between him, Roglič and Vingegaard at the Vuelta, when a three-way power struggle appeared set to tear the team apart at times - from the outside at least.

With Kuss in the red jersey from stage 8, it was a bizarre sight to see both Vingegaard and Roglič leaving Kuss behind at times throughout the race's final weeks. Vingegaard explained his attacks as wanting to honour both his daughter and teammate Nathan Van Hooydonck - who had suffered a heart attack - but Roglič's honesty after stage 17 revealed that his ride on the Angliru was based on a desire to race for the overall win.

Kuss insists that the situation was blown out of proportion and that whilst it may have appeared awkward from the outside, there always remained an understanding between the three as the race drew on.

"There were never any arguments," he insists. "I think especially among us three there was always an understanding. I understand, and understood, everyone’s position and looking from the outside, it is always easier to make of it different things. But in the end, all of us were racing our bikes and the main thing was that there were no other rivals except us, which made it seem more of an internal fight - but there was no fighting.

"There was an understanding and everyone wants to get the most out of themselves, I think it was only magnified by the fact that there was no [Tadej] Pogačar, Remco [Evenepoel] was out of the picture and [whilst] there were really strong rivals during the race, they were not our direct rivals."

Read more: Jumbo-Visma director says Roglič had a 'more difficult time' committing to Kuss' Vuelta ambitions

The closest that Kuss comes to acknowledging any possible strife within the team was in answer to whether or not the three-prong leadership had offered an advantage to him, given that Roglič and Vingegaard were too busy looking at one another and not questioning the position of Kuss in red.

"It was a big advantage in the middle of the race when we had direct rivals, but later when we didn’t have any, then it became - not a problem - but too much of a good thing."

Perhaps there was no infighting and the impression that was given to the outside world was not reflected within the Jumbo-Visma team bus, but what is for sure is that the Vuelta offered Kuss a brand new perspective on racing and revealed his inner strength.

The pressure may have been new at the Vuelta, but it was nothing that Kuss could not handle

Kuss' lead in the red jersey at the end of stage 8, standing at a whopping 2'31" over the first 'true' GC threat Evenepoel, offered the American the opportunity to readjust his goals and experience the pressures of leading a Grand Tour for the first time.

"It was a unique race for me because I went in without any expectations or pressure," admits Kuss, "but I realised after holding the jersey for many days and everything that went with that, I realised I could handle that stress and also everything that was going on, or things that were said in the media, I could handle all that.

"It was new for me and I didn’t know how it would be, all the extra commitments, but in the end, I just had to focus on one thing which was doing my best every single day and keeping it simple."

Read more: The making of Sepp Kuss: Durango, mountain bikes, and the lasting love of letting it rip

Kuss' best took him to unexpected heights, wearing the red jersey all the way from the Costa Blanca Interior to Durango, Colorado. Along the way, he earned his team's leadership, a new legion of fans and the confidence that he hopes to take into 2024.

Whether he goes to the Tour de France as a co-leader alongside Vingegaard, or as a teammate with half an eye on the Vuelta a España, it is certain that no team will underestimate the American ever again.

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