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Sepp Kuss, Wout van Aert, and Jonas Vingegaard saved a Tour de France destined for disaster with a triumphant turnaround last month.
And now Kuss and his Jumbo-Visma crew are ready for whatever the Vuelta a España might throw at them.
“We knew at the Tour that no matter what happened, we always wanted to get the most out of the race,” Kuss told VeloNews.
“The team was built around Primož (Roglič) initially, but that doesn’t mean that without him we couldn’t do anything. We just stayed the course, and it worked out. It gives us a lot of confidence for other races – it showed us we can win, or do well, in different ways.”
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Team leader Primož Roglič was forced out of last month’s Tour after an early crash torpedoed his GC position and left him swathed in sores.
Shorn of its Slovenian center and suffering top riders dropping out by the day, Jumbo-Visma pivoted and refocused after months of planning based around Roglič. Vingegaard fought onto the final podium while Kuss and Wout van Aert amassed four stage wins.
“Losing Primož, Robert [Gesink] Tony [Martin], and Steven [Kruijswijk] – everybody almost – wasn’t ideal, but we went to the Tour to do something, and we did that,” Kuss said on a call last week.
Jumbo-Visma saw its Tour de France crumble and then realign in the space of one week last month when van Aert and Vingegaard soared through the Alps.
It proved that keeping all options open is key in the chaos of three-week racing, and that’s being kept front of mind for this month’s Vuelta.
The Vuelta’s route directors are looking to shake the haves from the have-nots at the earliest possible opportunity in this year’s race. An eight-kilometer, 10 percent grind up to Picon Blanco on stage 3 followed by a series of fraught windswept stages through Spain’s hilly center will form the GC in the very first week.
As double defending champion and newly-minted Olympic gold medalist, Roglič will be Jumbo-Visma’s number one when the race rolls out of Burgos on Saturday. But with such a fiendishly tricky first week, the Dutch squad plans to keep GC veteran Kruijswijk and climbing ace Kuss in contention as long as possible before pinning down its final assault on the red jersey.
“It’s a pretty hard race right from the beginning, the third stage already is a summit finish so I think things will quickly become apparent what our strategy is,” Kuss said.
“I think the big thing is all the potential windy stages in the first week – we have to be ready for that because anything could happen. We want to keep all of us safe and up there through that, and we’ll see how the race works out from there.”
A return of the superteam showdown
The Vuelta is likely to see a return of the Jumbo-Visma vs Ineos Grenadiers matchup that failed to materialize at last month’s Tour de France.
Just as Jumbo-Visma lost Roglič in the opening week, Ineos Grenadiers suffered the virtual loss of Geraint Thomas, Richie Porte, and Tao Geoghegan Hart in the opening 72 hours of the Tour. Pogačar romped up the road in the opening mountain stages and the race for yellow was over before it began. The UAE-Emirates ace will be sitting out this summer’s Vuelta and so the peloton’s two archrivals will be back at the center of the show.
The British squad will bring a characteristically ripe roster to Spain. Giro d’Italia champ Egan Bernal and Olympic road race winner Richard Carapaz will be in charge, while Adam Yates, Pavel Sivakov, and Dani Martínez will bring all-star backup.
But Kuss said a strong team on paper doesn’t guarantee success.
“Ineos will have options but I think, on the other hand, we will too. But as you saw on the Tour, there’s so much that can happen,” he said.
“If at the start you have a bunch of potential leaders there’s so many other things that can happen – if you lose time in the crosswinds or something, anything can change how the pre-planned tactics play out. The Tour showed anything can happen at any time and so we need to be aware of that.”
There will be no room for an afternoon siesta in the first week of the 2021 Spanish tour.