Do we need to start a campaign to #freesepp?
When Sepp Kuss cracked on the climb to Jebel Hafeet at the UAE Tour on Tuesday, he was afforded no opportunity to recover and winch his way back to race leaders Adam Yates and Tadej Pogačar. Instead, the team radio crackled into life and the 26-year-old climbing sensation was ordered to float his way back through the bunch to give teammate Chris Harper a tow.
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Jumbo-Visma has ambitions for making a leader out of Kuss, and this August, he’s set to co-lead the team at the Vuelta a España alongside Steven Kruijsijk.
But with Primož Roglič the most consistent grand tour racer of recent seasons and Dutch stalwarts Kruijswijk and Tom Dumoulin afforded celebrity status at their home team, is Kuss set to play wingman throughout his Jumbo-Visma career?
Jim: No, Sepp is set for stardom
Kuss will see his chances to shine at Jumbo-Visma for sure, but his opportunities for outright captaincy at a grand tour may take time.
Kuss had started the UAE Tour in a free role alongside on-form teammate Harper after the Aussie got an early start to his season at his national championships. With Harper in a good position on GC, it was only natural that Kuss was sent back to work for his teammate after he blew a gasket on the Jebel Hafeet climb.
The Coloradan enjoyed co-leadership roles in his team at last year’s Vuelta a Burgos, and he’s set to lead Jumbo-Visma at the Volta a Catalunya next month. After that, there’s room for Kuss to shuffle up a spot on the team bench as uncertainty continues to hang over Tom Dumoulin’s future. If the Dutchman doesn’t return for the Tour, or sees himself out of shape in July after coming back from his hiatus, Kuss is set to burden a lot of extra responsibility helping Roglič.
Other than his dragging time trial skills, Kuss’ biggest obstacle isn’t other riders on the team, it’s his own confidence.
Through 2020 he spoke of doubts about handling the pressure of leading a team. However, riding at the front of both the Tour and Vuelta last year as last-man for Roglič, and being given increased windows of responsibility this season will offer Kuss the chance to prove to himself he’s got the legs to go a long way.
Outright grand tour leadership may take some time, however.
Kuss is set to share duties with Kruijswijk at the Vuelta this summer, and while the sharp climbs of Spain suit him well, some 40km of time trial certainly does not. I cannot help but feel that Kuss will have to pull something spectacular in the coming months to earn full responsibility over ever-reliable grand tour veteran Kruijswijk at the Vuelta.
I see 2021 as being a stepping-stone season for Kuss, with a year of shared captaincy providing the opportunity to test the water ahead of full grand tour leadership the year after. However, his contract with Jumbo-Visma is up this fall and teams will likely be throwing money his way. Should they offer big opportunities and big dollars, Kuss may find his three-week chances in new colors.
Andrew: Yes, we need to #freesepp!
A few things are obvious when talking about Sepp Kuss. First, he’s the best U.S. rider to come into the peloton in more than a decade. And with that comes an entire nation’s expectations and aspirations. Americans have always had someone to cheer for in the Tour de France GC since the 1980s — some of those names didn’t quite stand the test of time — but it’s been a while since Tejay van Garderen was popping into the top-5 nearly a decade ago.
And second, he seems in no hurry to thrust himself into the role of outright GC captain. It’s worth remembering that Kuss was a collegiate racer, and didn’t really get serious about racing his bike until he finished his studies. With his massive natural engine and cool head, he’s perhaps surprised even himself at how fast he’s climbed into the elite of the peloton.
The 2021 season is going to be decisive in Kuss’s professional trajectory. The Volta a Catalunya next month will be an ideal opportunity for Kuss to test his GC mettle.
So far, he’s been content to play the loyal lieutenant and learn the ropes of the peloton. In fact, Jumbo-Visma has played it smart with Kuss as well. They’ve given him freedom to hunt stages, while not piling on any pressure before he’s ready for it.
Ultimately, it will have to be Kuss to decide what he wants. Jumbo-Visma will want to keep him and to do so they will have to carve out some more space for him. Rival teams — think Ineos Grenadiers — will be offering a succulent deal to lure him away and put him inside their grindhouse.
If there isn’t a clear path at Jumbo-Visma, an ideal team for Kuss could be Trek-Segafredo. The U.S.-registered team could use a marquee American in its roster, and the ever-steady, always-polite Kuss would be a perfect team ambassador. With Vincenzo Nibali on the way out, and though it has some top classics riders, the team will need someone to build a GC team around. Kuss could be the perfect fit.
It is time to #freesepp. Of course, it might be nice to ask him how much freedom he wants. Perhaps Kuss is just fine where he is, on one of the peloton’s top teams, seeing a few chances when they come around.
Kuss seems to be taking the long view. If 2021 is a raging success, he’ll be ready to step into the spotlight and not look back.