Culture

North American racers of the year: Sepp Kuss and Lauren Stephens

These awards were easy to choose.

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North American man of the year: Sepp Kuss

Sepp Kuss riding uphill
Sepp Kuss grew into one of the sport’s top climbers in 2020. Photo: Christophe Petit-Tesson / Getty Images

Sepp Kuss blazed a wide path in 2020 and left a lot of suffering in his wake. In 2020 Kuss hit two new personal milestones: He won a prestigious mountain stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné, and he completed his first Tour de France.

Kuss wasn’t just a participant in the Tour. He lit it up. Kuss was often the last man pedaling for Jumbo-Visma captain Primož Roglič deep in the mountains. And in the most decisive climbs, including the Col de la Loze on stage 17, he was the only helper any GC captain had. Kuss rode the slipstream into 15th overall without having the GC be a focus at all.

Could Kuss be the next American grand tour star? “I don’t know. I don’t think it’s for me,” Kuss said at the Tour. “If one year there is a course with tons of high altitude climbs and no time trials, maybe I can go for it.”

—Andrew Hood

North American woman of the year: Lauren Stephens

Laruen Stephens turning a corner with other cyclists
Lauren Stephens excelled in virtual and real-life racing throughout 2020. Photo: Mark Van Hecke / Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic forced racers across the globe to adjust their training and racing schedules. Perhaps no rider adjusted better to this seismic shift than American Lauren Stephens. Stephens was in Italy when the pandemic surged across Europe, and she took one of the final flights back to the U.S. after her races were called off.

With no return to racing in sight, Stephens dove headfirst into virtual racing on Zwift, and her efforts helped her Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank squad become Zwift juggernauts in only a few weeks. Stephens won early Zwift races. Then, she took her Zwift skills to a whole new level. Stephens won two stages of Zwift’s virtual Tour de France, leading her Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank squad to the overall win in the inaugural event. Her efforts over the virtual season landed her a second overall slot in the world-wide ZwiftPower Rankings, which awarded her a nomination to Team USA’s UCI Cycling Esports World Championship Team.

Yet Stephens’ 2020 successes weren’t limited to the virtual space.

When real-life racing resumed, Stephens was ready to go. She took the overall at the weeklong Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardèche, and then scored impressive results in the spring classics.

—Betsy Welch