Road

Sepp Kuss keeps his cool as Team Ineos turns up the heat at the Critérium du Dauphiné

Sepp Kuss became Jumbo-Visma's top domestique during stage 2 of the Critérium du Dauphiné. The young American chased down an attack by Egan Bernal to set up Primož Roglič's win.

Sepp Kuss’ calm, emotionless race face makes bicycle racing look so easy, even when he’s chasing down the reigning Tour de France champion on a soaring Alpine climb.

“You always gotta have a poker face but we’re all suffering out there,” Kuss said after Thursday’s second stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné.

Kuss played a crucial role for Jumbo-Visma teammate Primož Roglič during Thursday’s mountaintop finish at the Col de Porte. As Team Ineos grabbed control of the front group and tapped out a relentless pace on the hulking climb, Kuss became Roglič’s final worker bee for the fight to the finish.

Even when Team Ineos ramped up the pace, with Geraint Thomas and Pavel Sivakov powering away at the front, the American appeared unfazed by the pace. When the GC battle erupted, Kuss rode with the confidence of a veteran, chasing down an attack from Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) before Roglič made his victorious push to the line.

“I settled into the rhythm of the climb, and when I saw there was some attacking, I just kept going at a bit higher tempo, and I knew Primož could finish it off in the last [kilometer],” Kuss said after the finish. “He told me to go all out until then, and he finished the job.

“I think we were already going at a decent speed, so maybe it’s easier to close it when you’re on the limit,” he added.

And Kuss’s work was even more crucial for Jumbo-Visma after the Dutch team was left shorthanded on the lower flanks of the climb. Top climber Tom Dumoulin was forced to execute a bike change just before the peloton rumbled into the climb, and top climber Robert Gesink dropped back to pace Dumoulin into the group.

The effort burned Gesink out before the climb started, and Dumoulin spent much of the ascent working his way through the group. The calamity effectively knocked both men out of the final battle. The situation placed Kuss into pole position as Roglic’s top helper.

“Tom had to do a bike change right at the bottom of the climb, and Robert had to back with him, so that took out two of us out,” Kuss said. “But I think the stage was pretty straightforward, and it came down to the last climb. It was a shame we had that trouble but aside from that it was good.”

He crossed the line in 11th place, 40 seconds down, well ahead of several Tour de France GC hopefuls.

Kuss said afterward that the rainfall that soaked the peloton on Thursday’s stage may have contributed to his big ride. The cooler temperatures were to his liking, compared to the soaring heat the peloton has faced over the past two weeks.

“I was dying in the heat, so when I saw the rain I was like, ‘Hey, it could be a good day,'” Kuss said.

The American is in his second third season with Jumbo-Visma and he’s preparing for his debut at the Tour de France. In 2019 Kuss turned heads with a stage win at the Vuelta a España, where he helped shepherd Roglič to victory.

Roglič’s victory marked another marquee result for Jumbo-Visma in its lead up to the Tour de France. The Dutch squad has emerged as the strongest opponent to the Team Sky/Ineos operation since the British squad claimed its first Tour de France back in 2012.

On Wednesday Jumbo-Visma outmuscled Team Ineos on a hilly stage, setting up Wout van Aert to claim the victory and the yellow leader’s jersey. Roglič now holds the race lead, and Kuss is bound to do vital work for the Slovenian over the next three stages.

“Just to have the confidence, and to work together as a team before the Tour is really good, and to get a little practice in,” Kuss said.