Sepp Kuss has proven he has the legs to win stages and could one day lead a grand tour squad. But for his first-ever Tour de France this summer, it’s all about the team as he parks personal ambitions to rev his motor in the heart of the Jumbo-Visma engine room.
With climbing from the get-go and explosive, mountain-heavy stages throughout the three weeks, the 2020 Tour is one well suited to the altitude-adapted Colorado native. While Kuss sees stages he likes, and has a history of beating the best in mountaintop finishes after his impressive stage victory at last year’s Vuelta a España, duty calls for the 25-year-old.
“I’m not targeting stages,” Kuss told VeloNews. “The team is going all-in for the GC, so I’m leaving any personal ambition at home, which I’m happy to do. We really need the whole team behind our leaders.”
The melting-pot of hype over the strength of Team Jumbo-Visma, the sharp focus of fans, media, and sponsors after a long racing stop, and the gravitas of the Tour does not faze Kuss. The young talent is only thinking of the job he has to do for his trio of leaders, Primoz Roglic, Tom Dumoulin, and Steven Kruijswijk, and their mountain battles with Team Ineos and others.
“All the extra stuff around the Tour doesn’t concern me really,” Kuss said during a telephone interview. “It’s more about being part of the team plan and knowing you have to follow through. That’s more the kind of pressure that’s hard to deal with. Everything surrounding that – for me – it’s not a big deal.”
The Durango native will be a key part of the climbing crew set to support his leaders as they face off against Team Ineos’ powerhouse team and the likes of Tadej Pogačar, and Nairo Quintana. Jumbo-Visma’s mountain train is strong as they come, with Kuss on call to pull alongside the experienced legs of Robert Gesink and George Bennett.
Having grand tour veteran Gesink and GC challenger Bennett within Jumbo-Visma’s arsenal gives Kuss freedom to breathe and gain experience in his first taste of the Tour de France cauldron. Although his team’s sport director Grischa Niermann recently described Kuss as “a world-class climber,” Jumbo-Visma management remains aware that this summer’s Grande Boucle will be just the fourth grand tour of Kuss’ blossoming career.
“They, of course, they want me to be there in the hardest moments, but I think they know what I can do,” Kuss said. “They know that I’m still working on consistency, day-to-day, and everything. They have expectations, but it’s not the same kind of pressure as a day in and day out GC kind of pressure for example.”
Having had a roller-coaster Giro d’Italia last spring followed by a high-flying Vuelta headlined by a stage win and Roglič’s overall victory last summer, Kuss wants to get back to basics at this year’s Tour, set to run August 29 to September 20.
“I just want to find good general consistency,” Kuss said. “Sometimes I have some really bad days especially in the first weeks, and so just to be pretty level throughout is my goal. This Tour is hard early on, and so you need to be pretty level throughout the race and just avoid those really bad days.”
The late addition of 30-year-old Bennett to the Tour squad is a boon for Kuss. With the Kiwi packing grand tour top 10s in his palmarès, the Coloradan welcomes supplemental firepower in the Jumbo-Visma artillery and the edge it will take off the heat of the Tour’s furnace.
“Having George on the team only makes it better,” Kuss said. “With the route as mountainous as it is, it’s a real pure climbing specialty when it comes down to those final climbs. Everybody is likely to have their good days or bad days, and the more overall strength in the team, the better. It’s not like we have a set order of who’s pulling when, so having three of us to support in the mountains means we should always have someone there.”
Kuss and Bennett will be finding their racing legs together at the season-opening Vuelta a Burgos in two weeks time, where the pair will act as co-leaders of a youthful team. From there, Kuss is likely to skip the early-August lower-tier French races and head directly to key preparation race the Critérium du Dauphiné as part of a more relaxed pre-Tour schedule. Just two weeks after the Dauphiné wraps up in Alpine town Megève, Kuss’s mountain legs will be put back into action in the first ascents of the Tour, with two long grinding climbs outside Nice on tap for stage 2.
With little time to acclimatize to the frenzy and hype of the Tour before being put to the test in the mountains, Kuss will be looking to the experience of teammate Gesink should the fireworks go off early. The Dutchman already has eight Tours and 15 years of pro experience under his belt, and although Kuss doesn’t need his hand to be held, he acknowledges that having expertise available could prove essential for both the team and his own development.
“Robert’s an exceptional climber and of all of us, he has the most experience. Sometimes just having someone with that much experience is even more helpful than then having the legs in difficult situations,” Kuss said. “He’s always helped me with advice and I really trust him. Also riders like Tony Martin. He has a ton of experience and is always so calm even when the race is turned upside down.”
Though Kuss will be kept in the depths of the engine room at this summer’s Tour, at just 25, he has a whole decade of opportunity ahead of him. This summer’s race will act as a key milestone in his development.
“He is in a good place to keep developing and will get even better,” team director Niermann said. “He still has a lot to learn, and he’s still a young guy.”
Don’t expect to see the Coloradan flying solo in France in a bid to replicate his Vuelta stage victory. For Kuss, success at this year’s Tour de France is all about the team, and he’s fine with that.