Kuss set a sizzling pace over the Mur de Péguère deep into the final of stage 16 of the Tour de France on Tuesday that deflected the pressure piled on his team by the relentless racing of Pogačar.
“Being in the yellow jersey it’s not just about being defensive, it was about riding a good pace, you never know who can suffer,” Kuss said after delivering Vingegaard to the finish.
Pogacar’s relentless commitment to attack on all terrain – as seen again on the Port de Lers climb 60km from the finish on Tuesday – puts a yellow-jersey size burden on the back wheel of Kuss.
“There’s not too much pressure [on me]. We still have lot of guys that are versatile in their roles and everyone has to step up a little bit because we’re down two guys,” Kuss said Tuesday.
It was wishful thinking for Kuss in his hope to deflect the pressure.
Jumbo-Visma’s rouleurs were dropped as soon as the race headed uphill on stage 16. With Wout van Aert up the road in the break, Kuss was left to stitch the race back together after Pogačar uncorked a fierce flurry of fizzing attacks.
“We made use of the numbers we had and got the guys in the breaks which was perfect, because we knew it would be a dangerous stage,” Kuss said.
Kuss needs to control in finishline climbs to come
Ineos Grenadiers was left swinging and Pogačar was outclimbed under Kuss’ pace over the leg-breaker Péguère.
It’s a script Kuss may need to write several times over in the two explosive multi-mountain stages and summit finishes to come.
The Coloradan ace is the one pure climber remaining for Vingegaard. Van Aert was in place to set the pace on the flat final to Foix on Tuesday, but the burly Belgian can’t likely ride deep on the Cat.1 Peyragudes and Hautacam summit finishes Wednesday and Thursday.
Kuss and Vingegaard will be left to brace back against Pogačar’s nothing-to-lose gameplay and the Ineos Grenadiers’ swarm offense for third-place Geraint Thomas.
Kuss will have to wield every inch of grand tour experience to deliver yellow for Jumbo-Visma in Paris as it defends its 2:22 lead through two mountaintops.
“In 2020 it was also similar we really took control of the race and this year we’re in a similar position,” Kuss said.
“All the grand tours I’ve done for the team we were in the position for Primož or now Jonas, and each time you get more used to that. But most important for us, we still have Jonas incredibly strong.”
Vingegaard will be counting on Kuss to defend every second he can salvage in two explosive stages in the Pyrénées. The Dane showed he’s right on Pogačar’s wheel without any help, but the approaching stages 17 and 18 scream danger and ambush from an extra-motivated UAE Emirates ensemble.
A 41km time trial in Rocomadour on stage 20 this weekend will see Vingegaard start second favorite against Pogačar.
Vingegaard is six-two down on recent time trial face-offs and lost eight seconds to his yellow jersey rival in Copenhagen in this year’s Grand Départ. The long lumpy ride through the Occitanie on Saturday sees Vingegaard at risk of losing a stack more than only eight seconds.
At 2:22 in front, Jumbo-Visma is firmly in control of the Tour de France. Kuss will need to keep it that way with two extra tough stages in the Pyrenees to come.