For the first time in over 10 years, an American won a stage at the Tour de France, and this time it was Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) of Durango, Colorado. The 26-year-old had already won a stage at the Vuelta a España and the Tour of Utah, and was planning on working for Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) at this year’s Tour. But after the Slovenian dropped out, Kuss and his teammate were given free rein…kind of.
Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) quickly climbed up the overall standings when he nearly won Stage 5’s ITT, and has been the only rider able to drop Tadej Pogačar in the mountains. The Dane now sits third overall at the Tour with six days to go, creating a fascinating tactical conundrum for Jumbo-Visma who have Wout Van Aert going for sprint finishes and the polka dot jersey, and Kuss climbing better than ever. The disillusion was never more apparent than during Stage 15, when Kuss and Van Aert went across to the break of the day, leaving Vingegaard isolated in the GC group. Here’s how it played out.
The 191km stage started with two uncategorized climbs where attacks flew from Mike Woods (Israel-Start Up Nation) and Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal). Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) made the initial move, but then a massive group of riders came across which contained Kuss and Van Aert. Eventually, there were 34 riders in the break of the day, including Vincenzo Nibali, (Trek-Segafredo), Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic), Ruben Guerreiro, Neilson Powless (EF Education-Nippo), Matej Mohorič, and Wout Poels (Bahrain-Victorious).
Kuss – making the breakaway:
Average Power: 337w (5.5w/kg)
Normalized Power: 362w (5.9w/kg)
Two weeks into the Tour, there’s no time for a slow start if you want to be in the breakaway. With some 150km to go, Kuss made a huge effort up and over the top of the first two climbs to put himself in the move. For the next two hours, the breakaway worked together on the extra-long climb to Font-Romeu. The classified portion of the climb counts for only 8.5km, but in reality, the road climbs from 180m to over 1700m in the span of 60km.
UAE-Team Emirates led the peloton with no worries about the breakaway, letting their gap extend to over 10 minutes in short order. The temperature climbed along with the riders, reaching 36°C (97°F) by the summit at 1,781m (5,843ft). This combination of heat and high altitude will play into the hands of Kuss, as we saw in his stage wins at Utah and the Vuelta.
Kuss – climb to Font-Romeu:
Average Power: 272w (4.5w/kg)
Normalized Power: 284w (4.7w/kg)
Next up were the Col de Puymorens and Port d’Envalira climbs, the latter topping out at 2,406m (7,894ft), and bestowing upon it the Henri Desgrange prize for being first to the highest climb in this year’s Tour. After thirty minutes of all-out attacks and a steady first climb to Font-Romeu, the Col de Puymorens was ridden “easy” – at least by WorldTour standards. With massive headwinds and a huge lead on the peloton, the breakaway was in no rush to get to the top, and Kuss rode at just 4w/kg to stay in the front group. That’s a pace that most amateurs could handle, even at 1,500m.
On the Port d’Envalira, attacks came in the final few kilometers as Van Aert, Poels, and Quintana went for the KOM points. This is the first time that Kuss has pushed over 300w for about two hours. With this amount of energy saved, it set up an explosive finale on the Col de Beixalis.
Kuss – Col de Puymorens:
Average Power: 247w (4w/kg)
Kuss – Port d’Envalira:
Average Power: 305w (5w/kg)
Final 2.8km: 352w (5.8w/kg) for 7:50
It is fascinating to see how polarized the pace of a Tour de France stage is. The fight for the breakaway is sometimes the hardest part of the stage, followed by a series of easy-to-steady climbs, and even easier descents – on gradients like this, they hardly have to pedal. But when the race kicked off again with 50-80km to go, it was on.
Van Aert led the reduced breakaway of about 20 riders onto the final climb of the day, the Col de Beixalis, which was 6.2km at 8.2 percent, with the first 2km averaging nearly 11 percent. The attacks came as soon as the road tipped up, and first, it was Quintana who hopped off the front. Valverde closed his former teammate down, followed closely by Woods, Alaphilippe, and a handful of others. It didn’t take long for Kuss to move to the front with just Valverde on his wheel, and one acceleration later, the Spaniard was gone.
Kuss – Col de Beixalis:
Average Power: 383w (6.3w/kg)
Normalized Power: 396w (6.5w/kg)
Peak 5min Power: 431w (7.1w/kg)
Surge that dropped everybody:
Average gradient: 11.4 percent
Average Power: 451w (7.4w/kg)
Normalized Power: 474w (7.8w/kg)
An undulating gradient coupled with countless switchbacks make the Beixalis the perfect climb for a solo breakaway; and with 13km to go on Stage 15 of the Tour de France, Sepp Kuss was on his way to his first-ever Tour stage win. His 5-minute and 20-minute power numbers alone would be seen as world-class, but to do them in the same effort, at 1,400m (4,593ft), in 32°C (89°F) heat, five hours into stage 15 of the Tour de France… That’s what separates the good from the great.
But he wasn’t done yet. Kuss still had some 57 turns to navigate in the final 13km, with a former world champion hot on his heels. Thankfully – and probably not coincidentally – Kuss has lived in Andorra for the past few years, and the way he navigated the descent off the Col de Beixalis, you could tell that these were his home roads. The American actually extended his advantage all the way to the finish and had plenty of time to celebrate before throwing his glasses into the crowd and crossing the line as a Tour de France stage winner.
Kuss – Tour de France stage 15 (excluding neutral zone):
Average Power: 264w (4.3w/kg)
Normalized Power: 299w (4.9w/kg)
Max Power: 1,005w (16.5w/kg)
Elevation Gain: 4413m (14,478ft)
Average Temperature: 32°C (89°F)
Max Temperature: 38°C (100°F)
Peak 2-min power: 455w (7.5w/kg)
Peak 5-min power: 431w (7.1w/kg)
Peak 10-min power: 403w (6.6w/kg)
Peak 20-min power: 379w (6.3w/kg)