There were just five U.S. riders at this year’s Vuelta a España, but each left their mark on the race in their own way.
Television screens were full of the effortless face of Sepp Kuss as he seemingly floated over the Spanish climbs, while Will Barta put viewers on the edge of their seats when he looked all set to win the stage 13 time trial, only to be undone by the second-to-last starter of the day, Primož Roglič.
Though less visible than Kuss and Barta, Logan Owen and Tejay van Garderen did the groundwork for British teammate Hugh Carthy’s breakout podium finish, putting in the hours in the EF Pro Cycling engine room.
Meanwhile, it was a race of survival for Ian Garrison. Just completing the race was a victory in itself for the WorldTour rookie, who spent the final hours of the final mountain stage in a long lonely time trial against the time cut, dead last on the road.
Here’s how the U.S. contingent fared at the 2020 Vuelta a España:
Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma): 16th overall
Best stages: Five top-10 finishes
Kuss once again proved he’s arguably the best climber in the world at this year’s Vuelta.
After a sizzling hot ride at the Tour de France, the Coloradan started as superdomestique to Primož Roglič and Tom Dumoulin. After the Dutchman faded out of the race citing fatigue, Kuss became an unspoken co-leader of Jumbo-Visma alongside Roglič.
That all ended when Kuss lost 10 minutes in a disaster day on the Formigal summit, but that wasn’t enough to faze the 26-year-old star. Kuss rode deep into the mountains through the rest of the race with Roglič on his wheel as he once again proved the Slovenian’s most valuable ally. Heck, some thought Kuss could have won the stage to the Angliru, but the youngster stayed true to Roglič as he checked his own ambition to pace his leader and limit his captain’s losses in the day’s grizzly GC battle.
Kuss rode a near-faultless race, with a Formigal malfunction and final crack on the stage 17 Covatilla summit proving the only scuffs on his Spanish campaign. Tellingly, those two off-days were also the only two stages that Roglič looked in genuine danger – proving how pivotal Sepp has become to his success.
“I feel really good,” Kuss said heading into the third week. “Already in the Dauphiné, I was feeling amazing, and I was hoping I could keep this going into the Tour. In the Tour, I felt pretty good. In this race, I feel maybe even better than in the Tour. It’s also hard to compare race to race. For me, I always get better as the season goes on.”
Will Barta (CCC Team): 22nd overall, 2nd on stage 13
Best stages: 2nd on stage 13
Barta, 24, was a part of a stage-hunting CCC Team that was riding out its last grand tour before its WorldTour license transitions to Circus-Wanty Gobert. The Boise native said he was targeting the time trial and breakaway moves, and duly delivered by coming to within one second of the biggest victory of his career on the Ézaro time trial at the start of the third week.
“I think if you had asked me yesterday if I would be happy with second place, I would have said that I would have been ecstatic about it but when, in the end, it’s by just one second, it’s obviously a bit disappointing,” he said after his second-place to Primož Roglič on the stage 13 TT.
With Circus-Wanty packing out its 2021 squad with riders on their current ProTeam roster, Barta is on the move next season. He has confirmed that he is speaking with teams and his future should be secure for 2021, but is unable to reveal details as yet. Barta’s consistently solid ride through his second-ever grand tour this autumn will make him a more-than-worthy investment.
Logan Owen (EF Pro Cycling): 105th overall
Owen rode at the heart of the EF Pro Cycling engine room through this year’s Vuelta as he and team captain Mitch Docker protected their GC leader, Carthy. The 25-year-old Washingtonian rode consistently through the 18 stages of his second-ever grand tour and gained essential experience defending and assisting a podium contender, something that will set him up for years to come.
“It’s been a really tough first week here at the Vuelta,” Owen said ahead of the second week. “We have ‘Hugh’ [Carthy] sitting second overall heading into the first rest day. I’m really looking forward to helping him as much as possible in the next two weeks.”
Tejay van Garderen (EF Pro Cycling): 113rd overall
Van Garderen successfully completed his 16th grand tour and sixth Vuelta when he rolled into Madrid on Sunday. Having ridden through the Tour de France with young teammate Carthy, van Garderen was able to contribute years of grand tour experience and guidance to the high-flying Brit as he rode into third overall.
“I’ve believed in Hugh for a long time,” said van Garderen. “I know this is just the tip of the iceberg for him and he’s going to win a lot more races. I hope to be able to help him in any way possible …. I’m thrilled we were able to make it to Madrid when the odds seemed stacked against us. It’s a good sign that cycling is in a healthy place.”
Ian Garrison (Deceuninck-Quick-Step): 127th overall
Garrison rode his first-ever grand tour in Spain, and it proved a tough ride.
The 22-year-old WorldTour rookie dangled way off the back of the bunch on the final mountain stage Saturday, and just finishing his debut Vuelta was a victory in itself. Garrison was the last man on the road through the close of the mountainous 17th stage and was in danger of failing to make the time cut. Nonetheless, the Georgian dug deep to ride a long, lonely time trial to successfully finish the day 50 minutes behind stage winner David Gaudu.
“I’ll remember November 8th 2020 for a long time,” he said after the stage. “Again, thank you to support from the whole Deceuninck-Quick-Step team. Now one last finish line to cross in Madrid.”
Though Garrison closed out the Vuelta over four hours back on race-winner Roglič, successfully completing his debut grand tour marks a major milestone in his young career.