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Sepp Kuss braces for early climbing challenge at the UAE Tour

Kuss takes first steps toward grand tour goals with early opportunity to test TT and climbing chops.

Sepp Kuss may be out of the general classification battle at the UAE Tour, but that’s fine by him.

Kuss was one of many GC contenders to see their chances vanish in the echelons of the opening stage in the Emirates on Sunday, but the 26-year-old has bigger ambitions down the road as he builds toward a landmark co-leadership role at the Vuelta a España.

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For Kuss, the UAE Tour is an opportunity to find form rather than a quest for classification honors, and the race’s two long mountaintop finishes offer him the room to test what he does best at the front of a cohort of climbers.

“There’s a lot of guys that are probably targeting this race more than I am, but I still want to give it a good shot next week,” Kuss told VeloNews ahead of the race last Thursday. “The first summit finish [to Jebel Hafeet on stage 3] is pretty good for me. It’s just flat and then straight up a big mountain. It’s a pretty straightforward, honest stage.”

As ever, the climbing ace is tamping down expectations for the weeklong race. Instead, Kuss sees the UAE Tour as a chance to put a winter of training in Europe into the real world.

“It’s a good opportunity for me with the two uphill finishes, but I’ll just have to see how I feel getting back in the rhythm,” he said. “It’s also going to be a good chance for me to test my TT – I’ve been training it a lot more this winter and want to get into the rhythm of doing a time trial at race speed.”

Kuss and Alejandro Valverde were two of many top riders to lose out in the echelons. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

This week’s race is the first chapter in a season of increased responsibility for Kuss, who has been handed a co-leadership role at the Vuelta and, if teammate Tom Dumoulin doesn’t return to racing any time soon, increased pressure to protect Jumbo-Visma’s captain Primož Roglič at the Tour de France.

Though the 26-year-old started stage 2 over eight minutes down on GC, the opportunity to rev the time trial engine in Monday’s 13-kilometer blitz through Abu Dhabi and fire the climbing legs later in the week was all he was hoping for.

“I’m not expecting too much really, I just want to get the season started,” Kuss said last week. “It’ll be interesting to see see how it goes. But yeah, nothing crazy expectation-wise. We just want to see what’s possible.”

The 11-kilometer Jebel Hafeet and 22-kilometer Jebel Jais finales will see Kuss go head-to-head with riders he’s set to battle through the year, including the similarly Vuelta-bound Adam Yates, Alejandro Valverde, and João Almeida.

Though there’s no chance of Kuss wearing the red leader’s jersey at the end of this week in the UAE, the red jersey he truly cares about is the one awarded in Spain in early September instead.