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Peter Sagan, Sepp Kuss blast off in Tour de Romandie prologue

Kuss and Sagan both clock top rides in countdown toward big ambitions at Giro d'Italia, Tour de France.

When scrolling down the results sheet of Tour de Romandie prologue, few would have expected to see climbing phenom Sepp Kuss as the best-placed rider for Jumbo-Visma.

Yet sure enough, Kuss scorched home in 13th place Tuesday, bettering the team’s noted TT talents Tony Martin, Jos van Emden and Steven Kruijswijk. The standout result was as much a shock for the Coloradan as it was for anyone else.

“I have surprised myself,” Kuss said Tuesday. “I worked hard on my time trial bike. This gives me confidence for the rest of the week and the time trials to come. I look forward to the upcoming mountain stages, where the differences will be made.”

Kuss finished just 16 seconds down on stage winner Rohan Dennis in the 4km prologue, a ride that will put a spring in his step as he heads toward season goals at the Tour de France and Vuelta a España.

Also read: Kuss on GC leadership: ‘I feel ready for that step up’

Speaking to VeloNews earlier this year, the 26-year-old said that dialing in his time trial had been the focus of his winter after the discipline had long put an anchor on his GC ambitions. Time in the TT skis seems to have paid off.

“Sepp rode his best time trial to date here,” said sport director Jan Boven. “We have also trained a lot on the TT bike lately and that is now paying off. Tony and Steven also rode a solid time trial. For the rest of the week, we will focus on our own race and we will make a day-to-day plan to achieve a good result in the overall classification.”

https://twitter.com/JumboVismaRoad/status/1387063423817617410

Although an upward tilting six-minute prologue is not the 30-something kilometer TT typically served up at a grand tour, Kuss’s ride in Romandie comes perfectly timed for the American hope and his team. Earlier this week, it was confirmed that Jumbo-Visma talisman Tom Dumoulin would be missing the Tour de France and that budding talent Jonas Vingegaard would be stepping into the big Dutchman’s boots.

With Dumoulin out and Steven Kruijswijk proving quiet since crashing out of the Critérium du Dauphiné last summer, Kuss could be burdened with the pressure to stay high in the classification as a foil for Primož Roglič at the Tour.

Also read: Kuss leads new generation of U.S. WorldTour talent

Kuss was keen to tamp down any expectation around his role in France when speaking earlier this spring, citing the 60 kilometers against the clock as a huge hurdle to leap.

“If Tom isn’t there, it will sure impact my role a little bit,” Kuss told VeloNews in a telephone call. “We have one less strong rider so it’s more responsibility on me, and everyone. But I don’t think I’ll step up to co-lead. There’s too many TT kilometers, that would write me off pretty quickly to be in real contention. It’s better served for me to help Primož and Stevie.”

Whether Kuss plays domestique or shadow-leader to Roglič and Kruijsiwijk in France, the Coloradan is all-in on a career-first GC role at the Vuelta a España, where less time trialling and gnarlier climbs could position him as a podium contender.

Should his schedule remain unchanged, Kuss’ next competitive TT will be at the Dauphiné in June. From there, all roads lead to the Tour and Vuelta – and he could be riding them on a time trial bike.

Sagan rolls back the years ahead of Giro goals

Sagan Tour de Romandie
Sagan will be looking to roll back the years in the stage 2 sprint at Romandie. Photo: RvS.Media/Basile Barbey/Getty Images

Peter Sagan finished 28th fastest Tuesday, 22-seconds back on Dennis’ winning time.

“It was a good opening time-trial in the Tour de Romandie that brought back nice memories from my first year as a professional rider,” Sagan said. “I gave my best to finish in a good position even if this short course wasn’t particularly suited to me. I felt quite well, my condition is improving and I’ll chase all opportunities in the next stages.”

Way back in 2010, Sagan blazed to second-place in a similarly eye-watering 4-kilometer opening blast in Romandie. The next day, then-2o-year-old Sagan kicked to his third-ever WorldTour victory in the stage 2 bunch sprint.

The Slovak ace will be looking to roll back the years to his breakout 2010 season Wednesday. Romandie’s second stage offers a flat finish after a series of short, punchy climbs in a parcours tailor-made to the 31-year-old’s “strongman-sprinter” skillset.

Also read: Dear cycling, please don’t forget Peter Sagan

After a tricky 24 months, a stage win this week would prove just as important for Sagan as it did 11 years ago.

Sagan struggled to hit the top step through 2020, with a gutsy stage win at the Giro d’Italia proving the savior of his season. He was again put off his stride this winter, with a COVID infection and long quarantine seeing him lose training time and miss the opening weekend of the classics. Since then, a close fourth at Milano-Sanremo and stage win at the Volta a Catalunya have shown hints that the triple world champion could be on the comeback, and he’ll be looking to confirm his form this week in Romandie.

Stage 4 Thursday will see Sagan offered another opportunity if he comes unstuck in the Martigny sprint Wednesday.

After that, Sagan will be sprinting for Giro d’Italia victories before heading to the Tour de France. With speculation swirling over his future with Bora-Hansgrohe and a possible move to Deceuninck-Quick-Step on the cards, every win could be worth its weight in gold.