Sepp Kuss’ stock rose as high as the mountains he raced in 2021.
The climber from Durango, Colorado, scooped a career-topping stage win at the Tour de France, a Vuelta a España top-10 and much more in 2021, all while riding on the right-hand of grand tour heavyweight Primož Roglič.
As if that wasn’t enough, Team Jumbo-Visma recognized Kuss’ mountain-crushing season with a contract extension through 2024 that books him in for more big things in the future.
So what does Sepp have to say about his season to savor?
Kuss spoke to VeloNews this off-season about racing with Roglič, topping the Tour, and his hopes for more in 2022.
At the top of the Tour
If you check Kuss’ palmarès, “Stage win: Tour de France” shouts loud toward the top.
Let off the leash after Roglič abandoned the Tour with injury this summer, Kuss picked his day to make a statement, and he sure made it count.
“Home” Andorran roads and a shark-tooth profile saw Kuss in climbing heaven on stage 15 of the race. A day in the break set up a solo attack and daredevil descent in Kuss’ journey to becoming the first Tour stage by a U.S. male since Tyler Farrar in 2011.
It was a result everyone was happy for.
Kuss was speechless, Durango was dazzled, and even second-place Alejandro Valverde took the time to cast him some kudos.
“It’s definitely a highlight of my career so far,” Kuss told VeloNews.
“A stage at the tour is something people always strives for and it’s incredibly hard to do. Everybody wants to win a stage and especially this year, almost every mountain stage was a crazy fight for the breakaway – there were so many strong riders in every break so it wasn’t easy.
“The stage finished where I live and it just came together for me. I knew the last climb from training, I knew where it’s steep, so I knew where I could make a difference.
“It was super cool of Valverde to take the time to speak afterward. We were just talking about how much we were suffering. We both gave everything and there was a good battle between us.
“Seeing all the reaction back home [in Durango] was nice. It’s a small community and it’s a town where you know pretty much everybody or went to school with everybody, or so-and-so is your teacher. So that makes it more special because it’s all people you know sending congratulations – it’s closer to your heart.”
Stepping up in the GC in Spain
Kuss didn’t get much time to bask in his Tour triumph.
Just four weeks later, he was back at Roglič’s side at the Vuelta a España, and this time, things worked out well for them both.
Roglič rampaged his way to a third-straight red jersey, and Kuss was right there alongside him in the high peaks. The Coloradan spent 15 days in the top-10 on GC, claimed four top-10 stage-finishes, and sealed a career-first grand tour top-10 with eighth overall. The one-two with Roglič on stage 17 put the icing on the cake.
Finishing top-10 at a race also including the likes Egan Bernal, Enric Mas, and Adam Yates is no joke, and hinted that Kuss has what it takes to race for his own results.
Also read: Kuss eyes upward curve at 2021 Vuelta
“Doing a good ride at Vuelta and winning overall with Primož was super cool,” Kuss said.
“For me, it wasn’t so much the plan to race for GC position but we just wanted to see. I had some bad days, but overall it was my most consistent grand tour yet, so I guess I could see that progression.
“On some grand tours I’ve been kinda up and down, and I know in future I just need to have less bad days in general [laughs]. I think that’s just the nature of racing for GC – because every day you’re spending the physical and mental energy and you don’t really have any, any days off per se. I have to just see how I progress.
“Next year It would be nice to try GC in [one-week] stage races and see how far I can get. And if that doesn’t work out, it’s okay. But it’s a nice goal to work on and it keeps you motivated, and every race you do has that focus. It is something we’re looking at – like I did a lot of work on my time trialing this year and in really short time trials I can do all right. But in the long ones, I still lose too much time.”
Racing with Roglič
Some, probably including Roglič himself, would call Kuss the best climbing domestique in the world.
The past three years have seen Kuss become just as much a part of Roglič’s rise up the GC hierarchy as the Slovenian’s fierce winning kick and his quirky yet closed winning interviews.
Kuss has seen Roglič pass from Tour-losing lows to Vuelta-victory highs more than once in their three seasons as a tag team. Roglič rode the emotional rollercoaster again this year, abandoning the Tour with injury before blasting back to Olympic time trial gold and a third Vuelta title.
“He knew the Tour was just bad luck with a crash and I think he can quickly switch focus and already start thinking about the next thing,” Kuss said. “He doesn’t really get too down which is important if you have another huge race only a few weeks after a defeat like that. That’s one of his abilities I think – he’s always feeling strong and really motivated.
“It’s hard when you’re not living near someone to be like close buddies or something like that [Roglič lives in Monaco, Kuss in Andorra], but he’s a really good guy, like such a normal dude. He can be pretty funny at times, too. He’s not a big intimidating figure with an ego or anything.
“He’s so relaxed, he wants everybody to do their best, and he wants to do his best. But he knows that anything can happen and he’s not one to yell at anybody.”
More to come through 2022?
Kuss will pedal into his fourth season with Jumbo-Visma in 2022 and is set to spend three more years with the Dutch crew.
Next year is set to see the team welcome grand tour workhorse Rohan Dennis to its already rich roster, and Tom Dumoulin is eyeing a more race-heavy program for the new year. With Danish sensation Jonas Vingegaard also being hyped as the “next big thing” of grand tour racing, it makes the pressure for selection and freedom more fierce than ever.
Kuss isn’t intimidated by the growing strength of his own squad as he throws forward to 2022.
“I feel really comfortable with the team. I think it helps to have a good relationship with all the directors, the mechanics, the soigneurs. It makes it easier when you go to a race or a training camp and everything is familiar but in a good way. And that helps me get the best performance out of myself too because you know how things work, and you know what the vibe is.
“I think it’s really good for the team just to have more strong guys, like Tom, and it’s great to see Jonas step up like that.
“[Vingegaard] is a good guy, and really calm. He can read the race really well and he’s always well-positioned so he doesn’t need too much looking after. I think he has all the skills he needs to be one of the best in the world. It’s only a good thing for all of us to see his step up and have so many strong guys. As the general level of the team is brought up it makes everybody improve.
“We still need to discuss 2022 racing.
“Of course, I’d love to go back to the Tour but I’d like to keep trying new races too, maybe in spring one-week races. I guess though, at the end of the day, I just want to keep training, keep working on myself and enjoying everything that comes with that, and see what comes,” said Kuss.