GRANADA, Spain (VN) — There was a moment in Tuesday’s summit finale of stage 4 at the Vuelta a España when American sensation Sepp Kuss (LottoNL-Jumbo) went to the front and a few big names went out the back. Fabio Aru (UAE-Emirates) and David de la Cruz (Sky) were feeling the sting of Kuss.
The 23-year-old WorldTour rookie posted his first stepping-out performance with some searing accelerations to trim the GC group to fewer than 20 riders. Europeans were seeing what North Americans already knew.
“He was putting everyone to the sword yesterday,” said teammate George Bennett. “I think he [cut] the group to 15 guys, and that’s pretty impressive for a first-year pro.”
Just four days into the 2018 Vuelta, Kuss is showing the Europeans why he is one of the most celebrated American prospects in years.
Kuss is soaking it all in at his grand tour debut. Even before his dramatic victory at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, LottoNL-Jumbo had already decided to bring the climbing protégé to the Vuelta. So far, he’s confirming the team made the right choice.
In the race’s first summit finale at the Puerto de Alfacar, Kuss played a key role in lighting up the front to trim the bunch and pace GC captains Bennett and Steven Kruijswijk.
“It felt good. To be in this race is a huge opportunity, so to be able to play a big role was pretty exciting for me,” Kuss said before Wednesday’s stage 5 start. “I am here to help the guys in the second and third week. To be good in the first week is pretty encouraging.”
Tuesday’s impressive showing is why LottoNL-Jumbo brought Kuss to the race. Many are already saying that he is destined for great things. The team isn’t putting too much pressure on Kuss and only wants him to learn the ropes and help out when he can.
“Yesterday was the first moment he could really shine and I think he did,” said sport director Addy Engels. “It’s hard to stay how far he can go. It’s his first year at this level. What he showed so far is very promising. What he did at Utah was impressive. What he did yesterday was impressive. It’s impossible to say where the limit will be, you just don’t know.”
Bennett, who is rooming with Kuss during this Vuelta, was more emphatic and said the Coloradan has the potential to go very far.
“He’ll go to the very top. My first year pro, I was hanging around in the back, trying to make the time cut,” Bennett said. “I always hesitate to extrapolate things to the extreme, but the engine is definitely there to be one of the best.”
Engels said that the team had already decided to bring Kuss to the Vuelta even before his showing in Utah. The team put Kuss on the Vuelta long-list in July, so winning three stages and the overall in Utah served only as confirmation that he was ready for his grand tour debut.
“[I have] no pressure,” Kuss said. “It’s probably good I lost a lot of time in the second stage. Mentally I wouldn’t want to have the handle to do the GC this year. It’s going to be a lot for me. I am much more comfortable to help the leaders.”
Kuss is expected to play a key role in the mountains to help Kruijswijk and Bennett in the overall. Both riders hope to punch into the top 5 and perhaps even higher. After his breakout victory at Utah, Kuss is keeping his feet on the ground.
“I surprised myself there,” he said. “After that race, I pumped the brakes a little bit when I came back to Europe. I focused on being really fresh for the Vuelta and hopefully making a difference when it really counts.”
The Vuelta’s next summit finale is Sunday at La Covatilla. Kuss hopes to be back in the high life again.