The second week of the 2021 Tour de France ended with an explosive stage into Andorra.
Sepp Kuss took the win after attacking from a star-studded breakaway, Jumbo-Visma’s second of the week after Wout van Aert was victorious over Mont Ventoux. Kuss jumped clear on the last climb of the day, the Col de Baixalis, and held off a determined chase from Alejandro Valverde to win alone.
Meanwhile, Tadej Pogačar maintained his healthy advantage in the overall classification despite his rivals working him over on the final climb. Jonas Vingegaard, Rigoberto Urán, and Ben O’Connor all took turns to have a dig off the front, but Pogačar had it all covered.
Here’s what the stars said after an action-packed stage 15 of the Tour de France.
Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) – Stage winner
Sepp Kuss was one of three Jumbo-Visma riders to make it into the large breakaway in the early part of the stage. The decision to leave GC contender Jonas Vingegaard with just one teammate raised some eyebrows but it appeared to pay dividends for the Dutch squad as Kuss took the team’s second stage win in a week.
Kuss launched his move on the final climb and held a small advantage over a chasing Alejandro Valverde all the way to the line.
“It’s incredible. I’m lost for words t be honest I was really suffering a lot in this Tour. I just didn’t feel like I had the spice in the legs. Today, I knew it was finishing where I live and I was really motivated for the stage and finally I had really good legs again. I’m so happy. My girlfriend and her family were on the final climb cheering me on. I would like to say hi to my parents back home because I haven’t seen them in a long time and I know they’re always supporting me.
“It was a hard day in the breakaway, and I know the climb very well. I don’t ride it so much in training because it’s so hard but I knew the beginning was really hard. I knew that if I went there and got a gap I could try to hold it to the finish. Wout rode all the way down the valley for me. After a big champion like that does the work for you then you have to finish the job.
“It means a lot. I still can’t believe that I’m in the Tour de France much less winning a stage. It’s really incredible. I’m lost for words.”
Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates) – Race leader, 22nd on the stage
Tadej Pogačar had to hold off an onslaught from his rivals as they looked to crack the Slovenian in the Pyrenean heat. Though the Slovenian admits that he doesn’t like the hotter temperatures, he didn’t look to be suffering as he followed each of the moves.
He extended his lead, too, as his nearest competitor Guillaume Martin lost time on the fast descents.
“Today was a really hard day, the last of the second week so we were expecting attacks but Ineos doing a hard pace really soon. I felt good so I was in no worries in the last climb. I just followed the others and it was all ok.
“Not so much because I knew that I felt good. The guys protected me well before. I had everything and today for me was the most important day to keep full, have water all the time. I had it and I had a good day in the end so there were no problems.
“I’m really happy that the GC gap didn’t come down. Today was one of the hottest days for sure and I felt great. I’m really looking forward to the next stages.”
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) – 2nd on the stage
Alejandro Valverde was the only rider from the breakaway that could get anywhere near Sepp Kuss when the American attacked. However, he remained so close and yet so far from the front of the race and had to settle for second in the end.
While Valverde was unable to secure the win, his teammate Enric Mas moved up a place in the overall standings after Guillaume Martin suffered a bad day in the mountains.
“Today we had a little more freedom, we could go on the breakaway and that’s what I’ve done. Once there, we tried to win … but it’s always difficult to finish off a break like that. I’m happy with second, but it would have been better to win. With Kuss’ attack it was very hard, and cutting those 15-20 seconds was already very complicated. He knows Beixalis by heart, both the climb and the descent, and did it to perfection. I was in a hurry in a couple of corners on the descent and I thought it was important to win, but it was more important not to crash.
“On a descent like this, you can do yourself a lot of damage. For the rest, I’m happy that Enric is still up there. I think that as a team we are doing well, beyond the bad luck of not being able to have [Marc] Soler here after his crash on the first day. Personally, I have to be happy so far. We will continue fighting until the end, the whole team, to give joy.”
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) – 19th on the stage
Wout van Aert was awarded the prize for the most combative after he joined his teammate Sepp Kuss in the breakaway. After earning his own stage victory a few days ago, the Belgian champion worked to put Kuss in the right place ahead of the final climb.
“It was a tricky start. The first 30 kilometers included very narrow and twisty roads, so we were prepared for a big fight. We wanted to have no more than two guys on the break because we wanted to have at least two guys with Jonas [Vingegaard]. It was by accident that it finally was three of us guys in the break. We made a plan for Steven [Kruijswijk] to wait for Jonas as I rode for Sepp [Kuss] at the front. This was Sepp’s day. He lives in Andorra and he was looking forward to this stage.
“I’m happy he managed to get this amazing victory for him and for the team. He spends the whole year working for others, so it’s nice he gets his own chance. Jonas is really trying to gain some time on [Tadej] Pogacar and the rest of the favorites. It hasn’t worked out so far, but we will keep trying. Everyone is so committed and helpful on this team.”
Wout Poels (Bahrain-Victorious) – King of the Mountains leader
Wout Poels is in a three-way battle with Michael Woods and Nairo Quintana for the polka-dot jersey. All three made it into the day’s breakaway and put up a big fight to take the lead in the competition, which belonged to Woods at the start of the day.
Poels managed to edge out his rivals on the day and now leads the competition by eight points, with plenty of opportunities for the jersey to change hands again.
I would prefer it was like a few years ago when nobody cared about it. It was a big battle again today and everybody was in that had to be in [the breakaway] so for me, it was point by point getting closer to take it. I’m really happy the plan worked.
You have to go not too early because they get in your wheel, and you have to trust yourself a little bit. I know I have a good kick when it goes uphill and it worked out.
Today I had a really good day and I had to sprint four times full gas, maybe 20 or 30 seconds each time, so by the end of the race that’s about two minutes sprinting full gas and, maybe, at the end you feel a bit short but if you want to win this jersey then you have to make sacrifices and that’s what I did today.
— Maillot à Pois E.Leclerc (@maillotapois) July 11, 2021