Most athletes dream of making it to the professional ranks in their sport. But Sepp Kuss had little time to dream this summer as he was plucked from his Gateway Harley Davidson – Trek development team to ride on one of North America’s top domestic Continental outfits, Rally Cycling. A former cross-country mountain bike specialist and national champion, Kuss switched to the road a year ago, and the decision is already paying dividends.
Kuss said he was very happy to get the call from Rally, but it was bittersweet to leave the Gateway Harley guys. Starting on a new team midway through the season could be difficult, but it was smooth for Kuss. “No one is a prima donna. Everyone has so much experience to share, which is important for me, since I do not have a lot of road racing experience.”
A sprightly climber from Durango, Colorado, Kuss began his cycling career on knobby tires, racing around the mountains of Colorado’s Western Slope. After high school, he went to the University of Colorado, in Boulder. There, he won three cross-country mountain biking collegiate national championships before switching his focus onto the road. The races Kuss was winning in college did not compare to the difficult European World Cup races after school let out each summer. “It was tough for me to find success in World Cup races, especially those in Europe,” Kuss said. “I figured my skill-set and body type was better suited to road racing. I dabbled a little in it last year and got consistent results. I had more desire and drive to train and race once I made the switch.”
The desire and drive to train paid off for Kuss, as he signed his first road contract with the Gateway Harley Davidson – Trek team. In this year’s Redlands Classic, he showed his climbing chops, beating Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly) and Janier Acevedo (Jamis) in a mountaintop finish during stage 2. Following Redlands and the Tour of the Gila, Kuss switched his focus back to school, finishing the semester, and racing collegiately.
Being a student athlete is all about balance, and cycling is no exception. Being able to spend four hours on the bike a few times per week while in school takes a tremendous amount of discipline and very careful planning. Kuss, like any other student athlete, takes pride in being able to achieve this balance between school and sport. “I make my schedule so I have more classes in the fall, when I do not have as much racing. This way, I can take a lighter load in the spring and have more time to race and train.” Not only does he put the bulk of his workload in the fall, during cycling’s offseason, most of his classes take place in the morning. “Taking morning classes gives me the rest of the day to train. Then I can get homework done or spend time with my friends and have gotten everything else done,” Kuss said. In the spring semester, even though the class load is lighter, Kuss still makes sure he sets aside enough time for school. “Sometimes, I don’t get as much sleep or recovery as I’d like because I have to be up late working on school stuff.”
Having a social life is also important to Kuss, as it is with pretty much every college student. “I can’t always go out with people on the weekends while training, but I always try to make sure I have time to spend with my friends outside of cycling,” he said. “Cycling is not my whole life, it’s just my passion, so it’s important to me to have friends outside of the sport.”
After collegiate nationals in May, Kuss signed with Rally, and his first race was the U.S. national championships road race, probably his most difficult test to date, with a number of WorldTour riders taking the start. Kuss, who excels on steep climbs, was not suited for a victory in the race, so he rode as a domestique for Evan Huffman. “It was a four-hour criterium with gradual hills. Not the kind of racing I’m good at, but something I definitely want to improve on in the future,” Kuss said.
The following week, Kuss again showed his climbing prowess by winning a stage of the Tour de Beauce, in Canada; coming in sixth overall and second in the young rider category, behind Gregory Daniel (Axeon Hagens Berman).
Thinking of the future and what’s in store, Kuss said, “I want to take cycling as far as I can while it’s still fun. I think it’s possible to make it pretty far, possibly WorldTour level, if I work hard and love what I’m doing. I want to live my passion, but it’s important to be well rounded, so I’ll finish my degree and graduate next May.” Kuss is studying advertising, something he believes goes hand-in-hand with cycling. “Cycling is a way for me to make connections that I could use to get a job after cycling. I don’t want to take anything for granted, as cycling could end quickly, and it’s important to have a plan after it does.”