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Sepp Kuss: ‘You always have to earn your spot for the Tour de France’

US climbing ace heads to Tour de Suisse with stage wins in mind and Tour de France selection to race for.

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Sepp Kuss may be one of the best high-altitude workhorses in the peloton, but he’s not resting on his reputation as the WorldTour winds toward the Tour de France.

Kuss is one of eight or nine Jumbo-Visma riders battling for just five prestigious slots supporting Primož Roglič, Wout van Aert and Jonas Vingegaard at next month’s Tour.

“Aside from Primož, Jonas, and Wout, who are always good, you always have to earn your spot for the Tour. It’s the same every year,” Kuss told VeloNews on Thursday.

Despite being penciled into Jumbo-Visma’s Tour six-rider shortlist this winter, there’s no guarantee that even a climbing king like Kuss will see the Grand Départ when COVID, crashes, and cruel turns of form can strike at any point.

Jumbo-Visma hasn’t handed out all its Tour tickets yet, and won’t do so until legs have been tested and health has been checked after the Critérium du Dauphiné and next week’s Tour de Suisse.

“Things can always change through the season,” Kuss said in a call Thursday. “And of course, we always want to bring our best team to the Tour. But for me, it’s the same approach either way. I know I always want to be good at that time of the year no matter what races I’m at.”

‘I don’t need to prove anything’

Kuss has played a crucial role for Roglič and Vingegaard through recent grand tours. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Jumbo-Visma threw a surprise this week when staff revealed no domestique is guaranteed a ride alongside the team’s Tour de France “big three.”

Stellar support crew like Dennis, Steven Kruijswijk and Christophe Laporte are all on a level playing field and fighting for selection at this week’s Dauphiné and the approaching Tour de Suisse.

Also read:

Kuss was one of Jumbo-Visma’s six when it sketched out its Tour strategy this summer.

As Roglič’s right-hand man and a former Tour stage-winner, Kuss is in no rush to prove himself when he returns to racing in the soaring Swiss peaks next week.

“I don’t need to prove anything really so there’s no stress for me,” he said. “Even for the preparation races, you already have to be close to your top level.

“For a guy like me that’s looking to be better in the second half of the Tour, I don’t need to worry about when to peak or showing myself now.”

This year’s Tour throws a fiendish route at Jumbo-Visma, Ineos Grenadiers, and defending champion Tadej Pogačar.

A mind-bendingly long bridge swept by North Sea wind and a cobblestone stage could torpedo any yellow jersey hopeful as early as the first week.

Burly rouleurs will be just as important as lithe-limbed climbers like Kuss. The need for a balanced eight smooths tensions among a bunch of teammates-turned midsummer rivals as the hunt for Tour selection gains heat.

“Everybody gets along and, it’s rarely a competitive feeling in the team. I think everybody knows more or less where they stack up and what their characteristics are. There’s a lot of tricky stages and we need riders for a lot of scenarios,” Kuss said.

“And even if you don’t go to the Tour, every race that you go to with the team, you’re there for a reason – that’s trying to win races. So if you end up doing the Vuelta, that’s also a big, big goal for the team. ­There are so many big races to go to that we all know we’ll see good racing.”

Also read: Inside the old-school training that took Sepp Kuss to the top of the Tour de France

Kuss has become a constant in Roglič’s grand tour ambitions in recent years. The two rode together through Roglič’s three Vuelta a España triumphs, the past two Tours de France, and the 2019 Giro d’Italia.

A provisional slot alongside Roglič and Kruijswijk at this summer’s Vuelta gives Kuss a backup plan he sounds confident he may not need if the Tour passes him by.

“I think the form is really good after a long training block,” he said. “After Tour de Romandie we went to training camp on Sierra Nevada, there’s always good training up there, and I think I always do well after a long, long training block. I’m in a good place, I think. I’m where I want to be right now.”

Adding to the stage win stack at Suisse

Kuss has amassed stage wins in some of the biggest races on the calendar. (Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Kuss rolls out for the Tour de Suisse alongside Tour hopefuls Dennis, Mike Teunissen and Robert Gesink on Sunday.

A deep field including Aleksandr Vlasov and Ineos’ yellow jersey candidates Daniel Martínez and Adam Yates gives Kuss the opportunity to stretch his fine-tuned climbing legs against some of the best.

“I feel super good after the training camp. It’s been a while since my last race, so I’m looking forward to getting back at it next week,” he said.

After amassing stage wins at the Tour, Vuelta and Dauphiné, Kuss has a prestigious trophy cabinet. Grinding summit finishes on stages 6 and 7  of Suisse next week offer the altitude-adapted Coloradan the chance to add some more silverware.

“It would be nice to try and win a stage,” he said. “There’s a longer TT on the last day, so that hurts any GC chances I might have. I just want to go and not really worry about anything until the second half with the mountain stages and then see how I feel.”

After Suisse, all eyes turn to the Tour. The next week will prove whether Kuss will be there.