Kuss, the Durango, Colorado native who is making is Tour de France debut, was the final Jumbo-Visma domestique to stay with race leader Primož Roglič on the soaring climb, and he crossed the line 56 seconds behind winner Miguel Ángel López (Astana) and 41 seconds behind Roglič.
Kuss’s finish came after a tense moment on the climb when he appeared to drop Roglič up and over a steep roller with 3km to go. Cameras caught sight of Kuss rolling off the front with López, while Roglič pedaled 30 meters or so behind alongside rival Tadej Pogačar. Kuss eventually dropped back from López just as Roglič attacked away from Pogačar — the American then paced his leader for a kilometer before he lost pace.
“I was right at the front and I accelerated over the top of one of the transitions but all of a sudden Lopez came across,” Kuss said. “I tried to stay with him but he was really strong. When I knew I was over the limit I backed off and tried to pace Primož a little bit.”
The series of events drew criticism from television commentators, who wondered if Kuss had inadvertently dropped his teammate on the long climb. Was Kuss simply too strong for Roglič, and had he left his team leader isolated in the most important moment of the battle? Was the back-and-forth sign of Kuss’ lack of grand tour experience?
After the stage, Roglič told reporters that he had told Kuss to attack. The strategic move, while improvised, came after the two Jumbo-Visma riders briefly spoke during the action, Roglič said.
“We talked just before it,” Roglič,” said. “I said to him he should go. In that case, the others have to chase him, and I can have a better view of what is happening.”
Roglič said Kuss’s acceleration blew up the front group. López jumped to chase, but Pogačar could not respond. It created the ideal situation for Roglič, the Slovenian said.
“I saw struggling guys around me, and I could attack because I still had one guy with me,” Roglič said, referring to Kuss. “On that climb, every meter counts, and every meter you have someone with you to help is welcome.”
The rapid ascent of Kuss from a relative newcomer to one of the top climbers in the world has been a simmering storyline throughout this Tour de France. Kuss grew up as a top junior mountain bike racer and nordic ski racer in Colorado before switching to road cycling just four years ago. He quickly rose through the U.S. domestic ranks on the Gateway Devo and then Rally Pro Cycling squads, before joining WorldTour outfit Jumbo-Visma in 2018.
His breakthrough came at the 2018 Tour of Utah when he won the overall by two minutes. Over the past two seasons, he has emerged as Roglič’s most consistent and loyal climbers on the team. Last year, he paced Roglič to third at the Giro d’Italia, and then help shepherd him to overall victory at the Vuelta a España. He also won a stage at the Vuelta and at the recent Critérium du Dauphiné.
When staffers were assembling the Tour squad, Roglič insisted that Kuss be included in the long list.
“It was a top performance from all the guys today,” Roglič said. “And especially with Sepp, he was right there with me in the end.”