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Sepp Kuss is bound for Spain after his dominant overall win this week at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. While the rest of his LottoNL-Jumbo teammates in Utah will continue on to the Colorado Classic, the 23-year-old American is set to make his grand tour debut this August at the Vuelta a España.
According to LottoNL-Jumbo sports director Sierk Jan de Haan, it’s a decision that has been in the works for a little while.
“Our team, our directors, my colleagues, we decided this before Utah so we already saw that he was growing and doing well,” de Haan told VeloNews in Utah. “But what he performed here, it’s overwhelming.”
Kuss soared to three stage wins in Utah in addition to winning the overall by a healthy margin, confirming that the form his team had seen in training could translate to big success on the road.
“When I found out that it [the Vuelta] was kind of in the cards a few months ago, it definitely gave me a lot of motivation,” Kuss said after Sunday’s stage in Utah.
“It’s going to be super hard. I’ve never done anything like it so I’ll just take it week by week and see how I feel about it.”
He’ll hope to bring his strong climbing legs to his first three-week race as a pro, riding for LottoNL’s team leader George Bennett. The New Zealander rode to eighth overall at the Giro d’Italia this May.
“I think George will be watching this performance of Sepp from Europe and he’ll be really happy that Sepp is in there in the squad,” de Haan said.
According to the Dutch DS, who also works closely with Kuss in training, the team saw promising signs of form at the Critérium du Dauphiné. That led them to plan for a big second half of 2018 for Kuss. That may have come as a surprise to all involved just a few months ago, considering the way things went for Kuss the spring.
Kuss said at the start of the Tour of Utah that the first few months of his season — his first few months as a WorldTour pro — were all about learning to suffer. De Haan said LottoNL kept confidence in the young climber, knowing he was developing despite the quiet results and the collection of DNFs.
It all seems to have worked out. In fact, he found time to smile while he was delivering his stage 5-winning ride on Saturday.
“There’s no better feeling in the world than dancing on the pedals up a climb,” he said after his second stage victory of the race. “I was having fun.”
That has shown in Utah. Kuss has been the dominant climber in a race with no shortage of climbing talents. He will have plenty more opportunities to dance on the pedals in the next few weeks.
The Vuelta will offer a whole new level of racing for the Colorado native, of course, but Utah does offer several advantages as an ideal tune-up race. It’s no coincidence that marquee names like Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Mike Woods (EF Education First-Drapac) came to Utah ahead of their Vuelta bids. Between the heat and the altitude, the weeklong race is a good primer for three weeks of racing in Spain.
It’s hard to know what to expect from a rider in his first career grand tour performance, but Kuss will ride into the Vuelta on the form of his life and with some tough racing already under his belt this month.
Considering his talents as a climber, Kuss has shown serious potential the past few years and has taken another big step forward this year. It remains to be seen what kind of rider he can develop into, but LottoNL’s decision to start him this August is a vote of confidence in what they have seen so far. For a team with a proven track record of developing young talents from across the spectrum of skillsets in recent years — riders like Primoz Roglic and Dylan Groenewegen — that’s worth something.
“You have to make a lot of steps before you’re at that spot and before you are a leader in the team,” said de Haas, “but when you look at the results of Team LottoNL-Jumbo, you see that we make a plan with this kind of rider and Sepp is one of them.”