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Tour de France

Sepp Kuss unleashed in the mountains: ‘We have to shift the focus’

After Primož Roglič lost time Friday, the team quickly pivoted to a more aggressive approach, and Sepp Kuss charged into the void.

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OYONNOX, France (VN) — Sepp Kuss lined up for Saturday’s opening mountain stage in the 2021 Tour de France with his horizon line dramatically altered.

Friday’s stage saw team captain Primož Roglič flame out from injuries and lose any real hope of winning the yellow jersey. That scrambled the team’s plans, and suddenly Kuss and his Tour de France is dramatically different.

“It’s a different role for me now,” Kuss told VeloNews. “You have to look for opportunities when they’re there. It’s different when you’re riding for the win. Now we can maybe shoot for the podium, or maybe try for some breakaways.”

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Last year, Kuss emerged as one of the top climbers in the Tour de France, and chaperoned Roglič into the final week. The American Tour rookie ended up in Paris in 15th overall, the best U.S. Tour debut since Andrew Talansky was 10th in 2013.

With Roglič out of the GC frame, Kuss suddenly will have freedom.

Also read: Roglič gives up too much time

The so-called “Durango Kid” didn’t waste much time. Just moments after speaking to VeloNews at the start of stage 8, Kuss rode into the day’s main breakaway.

That aggression represents how fast the team is pivoted away from Roglič and into a new game plan for the Tour.

“We are always behind him, and we wanted to go for something big in this Tour, but we are all realistic. Now we have to shift the focus,” Kuss said. “The spirits are still high. We all know that sort of thing can happen. You have to keep going. The Tour is not over. There’s still a lot we can do. It’s a different focus, but overall, it’s still pretty positive.”

‘It’s a disappointment for all of us’

So what happened to Roglič? Kuss said the Slovenian was still suffering from his high-impact crash in stage 3.

“It’s one thing to make it through a TT effort, but yesterday was so fast all day. The body wasn’t recovering. For him, it’s a disappointment and all of us, too,” Kuss said.

“Toward the end of the stage he felt that he was really on the limit and still really suffering from the crashes,” he said. “He told Jonas and Stevie to look out for themselves. When you feel like that, there’s not much you can do.”

Kuss said Roglič called off his teammates and rode in alone, losing more than four minutes to the top GC favorites. Roglič suffered early Saturday, and the team said he will race day to day to see how long he can stay in the race.

Jumbo-Visma started Saturday with Wout van Aert in second overall, and with Danish sensation Jonas Vingegaard in 11th at 5:18 back, less than two minutes behind defending champion Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates). Steven Kruijswijk is recovering from early crashes, and hopes to move up from 28th overall as the race finally tilts into the mountains.

“Wout is still in a good spot. Jonas and Stevie are not too far behind, and with how the race is going, anything can happen,” Kuss said. “A lot of the other teams are interested in racing from aways out. It doesn’t matter if you’re three minutes out, you’re still in a good situation.

“For sure, teams want to expose the weakness if they have them and see what they can do,” Kuss added. “Pogačar has shown he is the strongest guy so far, if he’s isolated, maybe it’s a different situation.”

‘It’s the race that decides’

Kuss’ start to the 2021 Tour is in marked contrast to how his clean ride unfolded in his debut last year. In 2020, Kuss floated through the first week in good position, and ended up emerging as Roglič’s preferred wingman.

This year, Kuss was caught up in one of the opening-day pileups, and lost a lot of time.

That’s fine for Kuss, who was always intent on helping his captains from the start.

“In training I always feel good, it’s the race that decides,” Kuss said. “Even last year I wasn’t so good in the first and second week, and I had some days when I was suffering, and I came around. Even I’m not so good in these first mountain stages, so you cannot read too much into it.”

Now that Roglič is out of the picture, he has a free pass.

On Saturday, it’s obvious he’s not going to waste any time.