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Sepp Kuss, Brandon McNulty racing to top form in Tour de France tune-up

Two budding American stars continue to shine at Critérium du Dauphiné as major roles at Tour de France creep closer.

Sepp Kuss and Brandon McNulty have hit the pre-Tour de France hump with speed in their wheels.

The American duo has delivered some out-of-the-expected performances in this week’s Critérium du Dauphiné as they buff out the edges ahead of high-pressure roles at the Tour de France.

Mountain-man Kuss limited his losses in the technical mid-week time trial and has emerged from a swathe of nervous stages unscathed. McNulty lost time due to a crash early on but has come roaring back with an unlikely sprint for third on stage 3 and a red-hot ride into eighth in Wednesday’s time trial.

A series of three mountain stages starting Friday mark the final hump for the young pair before they saddle up in support of pre-race favorites Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič at the Tour in little over three weeks.

Also read: Kuss to play key role in Roglič’s yellow ambition

“Sepp Kuss is in very good shape,” Jumbo-Visma sport director Merijn Zeeman told Wilerflits on Thursday.

“We’ve been working all week to get him ready properly for these mountain stages. In his shadow, Steven [Kruijswijk] will also go well in the standings. I expect two very spectacular rides.”

Kuss will make his second start at the Tour this summer.

With Tom Dumoulin sitting on the bench after his hiatus from racing, the 26-year-old will have added importance in shepherding Roglič through the Tour’s highest peaks.

Kuss’ improvement on the time trial bike and growing race-savvy through this week’s Dauphiné bode bright for both Roglič’s yellow dream and Kuss’ own future as he looks toward grand tour goals of his own.

The Dauphiné’s three uphill finishes Friday through Sunday will give the Coloradan the runway to stretch his wings in the terrain he’s made his playground.

Expect to see countryman McNulty elbowing up against him.

Also read: McNulty ‘really stoked’ about Tour de France bid

McNulty is well out of GC contention after losing nearly five minutes on stage 1 due to a late crash. However, a surprise kick to third alongside a swathe of strongman sprinters Tuesday and blazing time trial Wednesday suggests the 23-year-old’s legs are truly strapped on ahead of his Tour de France debut next month.

“Brandon McNulty executed well for eighth place albeit with a few technical mistakes,” sport director Allan Pieper said Wednesday. “His form is growing in the right direction with 12th and third in the last two stages and eighth on this demanding time trial course.”

McNulty is set to play a key role in Pogačar’s title defense this summer. Just as there will be no Slovenian allegiances between Roglič and Pogačar in the battle for the Tour’s yellow jersey next month, expect Kuss and McNulty to give no quarter in the Dauhpiné’s closing climbs as they race toward the big time at the Tour.

“The whole Dauphiné is very nervous,” said coach Grischa Niermann. “Everyone seems to want to prove themselves or want to connect the dots for the Tour de France.”

The dots are joining nicely for Kuss and McNulty right now.