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Despite riders falling around him like dominoes in the opening 72 hours of the race, Kuss has emerged relatively unscathed.
“I haven’t crashed,” Kuss told VeloNews. “The first day I was in one of those pileups, but I landed on bigger bodies.”
With team captain Primož Roglič wrapped in bandages like a mummy, and teammate Robert Gesink out of the race, Kuss is feeling lucky to be in one piece.
Getting through the 2021 Tour’s old-school first week is proving tough on everyone. Crashes marred Saturday’s opener and Monday was even worse, with so many top GC riders and sprinters going down in crashes that it provoked a rider protest Tuesday.
Looking Tour-thin, Kuss cannot wait to reach the mountains on the back-end of this Tour route.
The 26-year-old emerged as one of the top riders in his spectacular Tour debut in 2020, and right now, the Colorado native is looking forward to the climbs waiting in the second half of the Tour.
“These first three stages feels like we’ve done six,” Kuss said at the start Tuesday. “I feel good. After the first stage I lost so much time, I can now conserve a lot of energy in these days and focus on saving my energy for the mountain stages. That relieves a bit of the stress, and that can help keep me on the bike.”
Sepp Kuss is keeping cool until when it really counts
Last year, Kuss lit up the mountains to help pace Roglič into the decisive final time trial. Unfortunately for Jumbo-Visma, the wheels came off, and Roglič ended up second in Paris.
Kuss’s strong debut with 15th overall in 2020— the best by an American since Andrew Talansky was 10th in 2013 — opened the way for him to sign a contract extension to stay in team colors through 2024. Kuss is now an integral part of the team’s overall strategy.
So far, things are going less than ideal for the Dutch-backed team.
Tony Martin went down hard in the opening day stage involving a fan who was holding a sign in the pathway of the peloton. Other riders have hit the deck, and Gesink, a key veteran helper, is out of the race.
Kuss gave up time Saturday, and started Tuesday’s fourth stage in 159th at 25:28 back.
Kuss is racing in his first Tour with more fans along the side of the road. Last year, COVID-19 restrictions meant that most fans were kept far away from the Tour. This year, fans are back with a bang.
Kuss is putting the blame on the fans, however.
Kuss said this year’s Tour is different than last year, which opened up with some challenging climbing stages in the first weekend to create space in the peloton. This year’s old-school course is diving straight into the sprints in the hilly terrain of France’s Brittany region.
“I don’t think it’s the fans,” he said. “Last year it was already pretty mountainous from the beginning and there was a natural election. This year it’s tricky and there are a lot more riders who can win each day. Everyone is taking a lot of risks, and everyone in the peloton wants to get through without losing time. It’s a hard combination.”
Hoping Roglič can limit losses
Team captain Roglič hit the deck hard Monday, however, and started Tuesday’s short sprinter stage with bandages and bruises.
Kuss was caught up in an earlier crash without falling, and came up to the crash site Monday. Kuss swapped out his bicycle with teammate Steven Kruijswijk, who crossed the finish line sprayed with blood.
“Primož was pretty banged up,” Kuss said. “He was doing OK overnight, and hopefully he feels better after riding through today’s stage, and see how he feels in the time trial Wednesday.”
— Nico Dick (@NicoDick) June 29, 2021
Jumbo-Visma is hoping to limit the damage in Wednesday’s race against the clock. With Roglič nursing wounds to the left side of his body from the brutal impact of the crash Monday, team officials are hopeful that he will be able to perform at a top level against the clock.
Team manager Richard Plugge said the team is expecting to cede about 30 seconds to defending Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar on Wednesday.
“We hope that Primoż will be able to a good time trial,” Plugge told VeloNews. “Pogačar proved he’s the best time trialist in the world in last year’s Tour. He took a lot of time out of us, and we can expect he can take up to a minute and a half on us tomorrow.”
For Kuss, it’s all about staying out of trouble until the French Alps appear on the horizon next week. Then it’s showtime.