Two young American pros are hoping to confirm their promise from their respective rookie seasons in a critical sophomore effort at Jumbo-Visma.
Neilson Powless and Sepp Kuss each proved their potential in their debut neo-pro campaigns in 2018. Powless rode consistently across the season while Kuss surpassed expectations with an overall victory at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and a strong showing at the Vuelta a España.
Those results bode well for their second season with the ever-improving Dutch outfit.
“We are happy with these two Americans on our team,” said Jumbo-Visma boss Richard Plugge. “We expect them to continue to grow as professionals this season.”
Now the pressure is on them to do it all over again.
“We have a lot of confidence in both of them,” Plugge continued. “If you look at the overall season, they both had great years. It’s now about maintaining that trajectory.”
Each had their unique rides and experiences in 2018. Powless came hot out of the gun, and then later struggled to find his way. Kuss, meanwhile, struggled early only to hit his stride in the second half of the season.
Plugge said the team doesn’t expect too much from rookie riders and the team never wanted to put too much pressure on them, and give them room to find their feet.
“There are a lot of small things that it takes to adapt to the European way of cycling,” Plugge said. “They both came to a Dutch team, both living in Europe — that’s never easy. They both did an incredible job already. It’s a big basis for the future.”
Powless, 22, looks likely to race a grand tour in 2019, possibly the Vuelta. Plugge said it tries to give neo-pros on two-year contracts plenty of time to find their place on the team.
“He was really strong in the beginning of the season, and later was looking a little bit to go the right way,” he said. “We told Neilson, ‘take your time to adapt to the WorldTour.’ We gave him time and we have time. … I am sure he will be at the highest level like he showed at the beginning of the year. He was impressive.”
Kuss’s roadmap through his rookie season was a bit different. The 24-year-old was slow out of the gate and struggled to hit his ideal weight. He came into flower in the second half of the season, scoring two stage wins and the overall at Utah.
He was so good that he convinced Jumbo-Visma directors to bring him to the Vuelta a España, a decision that’s contrary to their general rule of not bringing neo-pros to grand tours.
“Sepp had some trouble coming into the season, but really found his way in our team,” Plugge said. “It took some more time for him to understand the way we are working. He really jumped into it, and really got it.”
For 2019, the team is hopeful their young American understudies will continue on their trajectory.