ANDORRA, Spain (VN) — It’s been a decade since an American won a stage in the Tour de France.
All that changed Sunday in a thrilling throwdown high in the Andorran Pyrénées when Sepp Kuss dropped some of the biggest names in the peloton.
Kuss powered away from an elite group of 30-plus riders on the Tour’s most grueling day yet on the final first-category climb. All day long, he raced like he’d been doing since the Tour started, hiding in the bunch and marking the wheels.
The Durango, Colorado, rider admitted he didn’t feel great when the Tour started, but his natural class as a pure climber and the chance of a lifetime to win a Tour stage added up.
And with his girlfriend and friends waiting along the route, Kuss knew he had nothing to lose.
“I know the climb from training but I don’t ride it too much because it’s so steep,” Kuss said. “I knew that the bottom part was steepest, and if I could make a difference there, I’d have a chance to win. It’s an amazing feeling.”
The last U.S. rider to win was in 2011 with sprinter Tyler Farrar, who is now working as a firefighter in Washington state. Since then, there’s been close calls, a pair of top-5’s with Tejay van Garderen, and some thrilling breakaways.
In 2020, Sepp Kuss made his Tour de France debut.
In 2021, he consecrated his place among the best American cyclists with a dramatic stage victory in what was the hardest stage so far in a grueling Tour.
“I didn’t know that statistic,” Kuss said after driving home the solo win. “I keep winning races in Europe and every one keeps getting better. But I never could have dreamed to be in the Tour de France, let alone to win a stage here.”
Kuss joins elite company of Tour de France winners, becoming the 11th rider to win a Tour stage from the United States (some results have been erased due to doping violations).
The 26-year-old has quickly raised through the WorldTour ranks since turning pro in 2017. After joining Jumbo-Visma, he’s emerged as the best U.S. climber since the days of Andy Hampsten.
Last year, in his Tour debut, he rode as the lead wingman for Primož Roglič and finished 15th overall in Paris.
So far in the 2021 Tour, Kuss seemed to struggle until he came to life Sunday in a high, hot and fast stage across the Pyrénées from France into Andorra, where Kuss is a part-time resident during the racing season.
“We wanted to win stages, and today was a big chance. Having a rider like Wout [Van Aert] lead you out, you have to finish it off,” Kuss said. “I didn’t feel great when the Tour started, but today we knew we wanted to have riders up the road, and I felt better as the stage unfolded.”
Kuss saved the best for last, attacked behind an initial flare by Nairo Quintana. Alejandro Valverde gave chase, but Kuss had the hot legs and cool nerves to negotiate the technical descent and fend off the 41-year-old Valverde for the win.
The victory elevates Kuss to the next level.
Already a winner of stages in the Vuelta a España and Critérium du Dauphiné, some expect Kuss to possibly emerge as a GC contender later in his career.
A Vuelta start is in the cards later this season, but right now, Kuss is enjoying the buzz of being at the top of the Tour de France heap.
For an American racing in Europe, it means even more to win a stage.
“Over the last few years, there are a lot more U.S. riders at the highest levels, and it was cool to be in the breakaway with Neilson [Powless] out there with me today,” Kuss said. “We also have guys like Brandon McNulty and Lawson Craddock. Maybe right now we don’t have the powerhouse resources like some of the other countries, we are all motivated with our difficult skillsets, so it’s an exciting time in U.S. cycling.”
With his girlfriend and friends waiting along the course, Kuss followed the “pin” on his iPhone to find them during the course for a quick wave, and then he buried himself for the victory.
List of US winners of Tour de France stages:
Lance Armstrong (results erased)