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Vuelta a Espana

Sepp Kuss climbs into King of the Mountains jersey at the Vuelta a España

Jumbo-Visma gets title defense rolling with Primož Roglič taking red jersey and the Coloradan ace Kuss poised 15 seconds back after opening time trial.

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Sepp Kuss conquered the Alto de Castillo climb to secure the first King of the Mountains jersey of the Vuelta a España on Saturday.

Kuss blasted up the opening hill of the stage 1 time trial to score a mojo-boosting lead in the mountains classification and win some time in the Vuelta’s distinctive blue-dotted KoM jersey.

“I wasn’t aiming for the mountain jersey before the start, but I knew the climb was the only part of the course for me to use my strength so I went as hard as I could on the climb,” Kuss said Saturday.

“I just tried to hold on through the last part of the course. It was a short effort, not like the real mountains, but for sure it’s good for the confidence.”

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Jumbo-Visma team leader Roglič blazed to the line not long after the Coloradan racer Kuss finished his ride. Roglic’s searing 50kph effort put him atop the overall standings and saw him slot straight back into the red jersey he wore into Madrid last fall.

“Primož [Roglič] is right on form, starting where he left up at the Olympics,” Kuss said. “It’s really good for the team atmosphere to start the Vuelta like this.”

With defending champion Roglič leading the race and Kuss poised just 15 seconds back, Jumbo-Visma holds the early advantage in the race for GC.

Ineos Grenadiers duo Richard Carapaz and Egan Bernal are 25 and 27 seconds down, respectively, and classification threats Mikel Landa and Hugh Carthy are a few seconds further in arrears.

Kuss cautioned that a 2.5km test cannot be extrapolated to the mountains that spike throughout this climb-packed Vuelta.

“There is so much hard racing to come, this won’t count for too much,” he said.

The question now is how long Kuss and Roglič can keep hold of their leader’s jerseys. A sprint stage with the threat of crosswinds comes Sunday before a summit finish atop Picón Blanco provides the first key climbing test of the race on Monday’s third stage.

Roglič found himself in the leader’s jersey after the opening stage at the 2020 Vuelta before playing tug-o-war with Carapaz for the GC lead through the race’s second week. Kuss has also worn the climber’s jersey, albeit only for one day.

Roglič didn’t rule out the notion of carrying the maillot rojo all the way through the next three weeks.

“We’ll see, huh?” he said after winning the stage Saturday. “Right now I am enjoying this, and I want to enjoy this with the team in the coming days.”

Roglič and Kuss could easily be stripped of their special-issue jerseys in the next 48 hours.

For now, all the King of the Mountains and the red jerseys means is a confidence boost and a nice addition to the family photo album. But it sure is better to have, than to have not.