Sepp Kuss loves big mountains, and he’d love to win on the Alto de l’Angliru someday.
The Colorado cyclist remained true to team colors on Sunday’s assault of Spain’s hardest climb despite having the legs to have had a good shot at the stage victory. With team captain Primož Roglič racing for the overall victory in what remains a very taut Vuelta a España GC battle, it’s all-in to carry the red jersey to Madrid on Sunday.
VeloNews caught up with Kuss to talk about what it’s like racing up cycling’s hardest climbs, and how the team is managing the Vuelta in the closing days of the 2020 season’s final race.
VeloNews: Sepp, how was your first assault on the Angliru?
Sepp Kuss: Super-tough. If I had to compare it, it’s a lot like the Col de la Loze we did in the Tour. It’s funny, it’s so steep at a regular grade, that after a while it just feels like a normal climb because you’re grinding away for so long. You get used to that torque that you need. The beginning switchbacks are really, really steep, but there are some switchbacks near the top where you can get some speed, but it’s unrelenting.
VN: What setup were you racing, and how do you manage attacks from rivals on a climb that is so steep?
SK: I was on 34×30. When it is so steep, you can afford to let someone dangle in front of you, and you know they are not going anywhere. It’s also a matter of saving your punch for the very, very end. Because if you use it early on, when it’s so steep, then you can really fall off. On Saturday, we did almost 5,000m of climbing, and every climb we did was really steep, but they were quite spaced out. The Angliru stage was short and sweet. The power I had Sunday was good. No personal bests or anything.
VN: There was a lot of speculation that you could have won if you had not helped Roglič, do you think you could have followed Carthy?
SK: Maybe in a different situation, because I felt super-good, and I didn’t feel under pressure. The goal is to win the GC, and I knew that before the stage. If Primož was on a super day, then maybe in some fairytale ending, we could have attacked together and hold hands across the finish line [laughs]. I was happy to be able to help him. Even on such a hard climb, when he did have not such a good day, we kept the gap to 10 seconds to Carapaz, so we cannot complain.
VN: What’s your view on these very hard climbs like the Angliru or Zoncolan? How much do they really decide the GC?
SK: I really like the steep climbs, but if you’re looking for massive time differences on those super-steep climbs, it’s hard, because you’re just going so slow. It’s quite easy to measure your efforts when it’s that steep. The tactics don’t come into play because there is no momentum that people are coming with. So even if someone is coming with attacks at twice the speed of you, they don’t go far. You can always control the race around you. I think they have their place, but maybe if it was on the second-to-last climb of the day, with an easier finishing climb, there could see more differences. These super-steep climbs are nice to have on a couple of stages.
VN: The team is now back in the lead, how do you manage these last few stages?
SK: These stages, on paper, don’t look as hard, but everybody is going to look for any opportunity to attack. La Covatilla is a super-hard climb, and depending on what the wind is like over the top, it can make a difference. It’s steep at the bottom, and then more open near the top. Every stage we’ve had, it’s been real racing. It’s certainly isn’t decided in the TT, but that will be the main benchmark.
VN: How is the racing here at the Vuelta compared to what the team faced at the Tour de France?
SK: It’s a different style here compared to the Tour. It’s a lot less controlled. There are fewer teams here for GC, so any stage sees a huge fight for the break. When you think a break is gone, there are two teams that missed it, and it all starts again. It’s harder to control, but the stages are a bit shorter, more dynamic. It’s also more enjoyable to race it because it’s not as predictable. It’s harder to control, but it’s also nice to make for good racing.
VN: How are you feeling so deep into the season after coming off the Tour and straight into the Vuelta?
SK: I feel really good. 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. Maybe in years to come, I wouldn’t have a problem racing later in the season and starting later as well. Maybe I say that now because the weather has been good. I might not say that if it was pouring rain every day.