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Just as he was powering through traffic and winding up his sprint, teammate Primož Roglič, who had just won the stage, was descending on the edge of the course to go to the podium protocol, just 500m down the road.
There was a hint of a smile on Kuss’s face as his grimace turned to joy, knowing that Roglič won and that he was about to bring home second and scoop up valuable time bonuses against their rivals.
“We’re all here for Primož,” Kuss said. “Primož is better than me for sure, and I help him when I can. It’s been a great Vuelta for the entire team.”
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That moment captured the essence of what was another personal milestone Kuss and his ever-improving palmarès.
While all eyes were on Roglič, the Jumbo-Visma climber quietly scored a career-best grand tour result Sunday with eighth overall at the Vuelta.
Sepp Kuss keeps climbing up the ranks
For Kuss, it’s all about helping the team while helping himself.
On Sunday, a smiling Kuss celebrated the fruits of their labor in the main plaza in front of Santiago’s famous cathedral. Roglič won his third consecutive Vuelta crown, and the team cheered when he hoisted his bike over his shoulders on the winner’s podium like a European football team celebrating a Champion’s League victory.
Except for a wobble when Roglič crashed on slick roads in stage 10, this Vuelta victory was Jumbo-Visma’s most seamless grand tour yet. Roglič dominated the race from start to finish, and the team did a great job protecting his flanks.
“I have seen a strong team these weeks,” said Jumbo-Visma sport director Grischa Niermann. “When I look back at the last three Vueltas, this is the first edition where we had everything under control the entire race. I think we played it well. I realize how special it is to win for the third time in a row.”
As he is now becoming accustomed to, Kuss shunted his personal ambitions aside to help chaperone Roglič deep into the mountains, including Lagos de Covadonga, where he and Roglič went one-two on one of the mythical stages of the Vuelta.
“We really didn’t discuss it. If you know you can win, you just go for it,” Kuss said of Covadonga, where Roglič won and he was second. “It’s easy working for Primož because you know he’s always going to be there.”
Since his grand tour debut in the 2018 Vuelta, Kuss has quickly rattled off seven grand tours, with each one quietly hitting new milestones and personal achievements.
In 2019, he won his first European pro race with an emotional stage victory at Santuario del Acebo, where he high-fived fans as he swept to victory in the final meters. In 2020, he won the “queen stage” at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
And this year, he scored a breakthrough stage win at the Tour de France after soloing home the victory in Andorra ahead of a chasing Alejandro Valverde.
Jumbo-Visma DS: ‘Next step is to become consistent for three weeks’
Even when helping the team, Kuss continues to progress with his personal overall ambitions.
This season, the stars never quite lined up for Kuss in targeting a GC. And once Roglič was down to race the Vuelta, Kuss happily stepped aside for his prolific and consistent captain.
Jumbo-Visma sport director Addy Engels said the team is backing Kuss’s progress without putting too much pressure on his shoulders.
“He will get his chances,” Engels told VeloNews on Kuss’s GC prospects. “For the moment, when he’s really good, he’s up with the best. But he also has moments when he’s not, and to be able to make a GC, especially in a grand tour, he’ll have to be up there every day. That consistency has to improve and grow, but he still has the time to grow into that.
“The role that he has in this Vuelta, helping Primož and being there in the key moments, that will make him grow as a GC rider,” Engels said. “And hopefully he gets to that level like he performed at Covadonga, but for three weeks, or even for one week.”
Kuss, who turns 27 next week, didn’t win a stage during this Vuelta, but he was second to Roglič at Lagos de Covadonga, and fought through traffic to hit the result and gobble up valuable bonus seconds at the line as well.
Kuss won the King of the Mountains jersey in the opening stage in Burgos and raced steadily throughout the Vuelta. The team was rallying around Roglič, so Kuss could pick his moments to dig deep to help, and then follow home the wheels.
The end result is an encouraging eighth place overall in the Spanish grand tour, his first top-10 of his career. That was good for the first top-10 by a U.S. rider in the Vuelta since Tejay van Garderen was 10th in 2017.
Up next, Kuss will race the Italian fall classics, including Il Lombardia to close out the 2021 season.