ST. GEORGE, Utah (VN) — When Sepp Kuss climbed to ninth overall in last year’s Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, he did so in the orange kit of then-Continental domestic team Rally Cycling. The 2018 edition of the race, however, sees him making just his second start on U.S. soil so far this season — and in LottoNL-Jumbo yellow and black.
This has been a year of adjustments for the 23-year-old Colorado native, who is midway through his first season as a WorldTour pro. Along the way, he has learned to embrace the suffering.
“You think that moving to Europe, at least for me, it’s not a big adjustment. Moving to a new team, that’s kind of an adjustment, but you’re still racing your bike. But even though it doesn’t seem like it, all those little things add up,” Kuss told VeloNews ahead of the Tour of Utah.
“For me, it was a lot of new things. I really haven’t been doing this for that long so to be making that jump was a really tall order anyway. In a lot of the early spring races I was definitely suffering — but I was still super motivated and I was loving every moment of it.”
After initially showing his promise as a mountain biker, Kuss first made waves as a road racer in college and then rode with Rally for two seasons starting in 2016. He put his talents on display all over the North American racing map, catching the eye of WorldTour squads like LottoNL. Last transfer season, he signed on for two years with the Dutch-based team, one of two Americans to do so along with Neilson Powless.
At the time, Kuss pointed to the team’s developmental focus as a major factor in the decision. Now, well into his first season with LottoNL, he says that the team remains committed to that approach, which saw him racking up starts in weeklong stage races all spring. Those starts — in events known for their difficulty like the Vuelta al País Vasco and the Tour of the Alps — did not always lead to finishes.
Nonetheless, Kuss feels like his experiences racing at the highest level in what he described as a “low-pressure” atmosphere have been paying off so far, providing him with opportunities to learn the ins and outs of top-tier racing.
“All the little things. For me, nutrition was something I struggled with,” he said. “I was pretty heavy at the beginning of the year and I just never thought about what I ate or what I drank prior to this year. But this year all those little things really add up.”
LottoNL has taken every opportunity in 2018 to prove its credentials as a talent development vehicle. Dylan Groenewegen has emerged as one of the sport’s top sprinters this season, following up an impressive spring with a July that saw him nab two stage wins at the Tour de France. Primoz Roglic established himself as one of cycling’s most promising GC riders, winning both the Vuelta al País Vasco and the Tour de Romandie and then taking a stage and fourth overall at the Tour de France.
Having a front-row seat to those success stories, as well as guidance from veterans like Steven Kruijswijk, should pay dividends for young riders like Kuss, who said he felt much more invested than usual watching the Tour from home this July.
“They’re really good role models. They’ve got a lot of humility,” he said. “And they have their bad days too, and at the end of the day they’re just normal guys, so that’s pretty cool.”
After his suffering-filled spring, Kuss rode the Critérium du Dauphiné in June. He took some confidence from his ride there — and then took some time off in July. Following his break, he’s back to racing in an event that will be a target for LottoNL. The list of contenders is stacked with strong climbers, but LottoNL have both Kuss and Powless racing on home soil.
“It’s a really good race for me and especially this year with a really good start list there’s extra motivation to pull off a good result,” Kuss said.
He and Powless have both enjoyed success in Utah in the past. Kuss took his ninth place in 2017 while backing Rob Britton for the overall win. Powless was fourth and won the young rider’s jersey while riding for Axeon Hagens Berman.
According to Kuss, LottoNL has no “clearcut plan,” with the expectation that the tough climbs on the menu will decide the team’s strategy in the coming days.
“We’ll feel it out,” he said. “[We’ll] just go for it and see how things shake out after the early stages.”
They won’t have long to wait for things to start shaking out in Utah. Monday’s prologue will set the early leaderboard, and Tuesday’s stage 1 features the highest climb in the race.