Sepp Kuss keeps slim Vuelta lead, rides into U.S. history for Grand Tours
Sepp Kuss can become the first American man to win a cycling Grand Tour in a decade. He’s already broken the U.S. men’s record for most stages in the lead of a single Grand Tour.
Kuss, who turned 29 on Wednesday, grabbed the Vuelta a España lead on stage eight on Sept. 2 and has held it for 10 consecutive stages (including two rest days).
The Vuelta, the year’s third and final Grand Tour, has turned into a competition among three riders on the same Jumbo-Visma team who finished in the top three places on Wednesday’s mountainous 17th stage.
Primož Roglič of Slovenia, a three-time Vuelta champion, and Jonas Vingegaard of Denmark, a two-time Tour de France champion, crossed the finish line first and second.
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Nineteen seconds later, Kuss came in third place. He began the day with a 29-second lead over Vingegaard and, factoring in time bonuses, finished it eight seconds ahead going into the final summit finish stage of the Vuelta on Thursday.
“When I crossed the finish line, I thought I had lost the jersey,” Kuss said. “I wasn’t really even sad because I gave it the best I could on the climb. When I heard I still had the jersey, I was a bit surprised. Strange feelings today, but not in a bad way. Another day with my two strong teammates, my friends as well.”
In a post-race interview, Roglič said that he told Kuss, “Keep fighting, keep believing, and you will make it.”
“Halfway up the climb, he told me, ‘Sepp, you’re going to win,’” Kuss said without specifying whether Roglič was referring to the stage or the overall. “We’ll see.”
But with Roglič and Vingegaard winning the last two stages, it is clear that they have individual ambitions rather than prioritizing helping Kuss win his first Grand Tour title. The Vuelta’s last overall stage, a flat one into Madrid, is Sunday.
“The win today was our main goal and to keep the situation 1-2-3 in GC [general classification], so everything went by how we wanted,” Vingegaard said. “To be honest, I am still happy that Sepp is in the [leader] jersey. ... To be honest, I actually hoped that he will keep the jersey. I would love to see Sepp winning this Vuelta a España.”
The smallest men’s Grand Tour margins of victory in history: six seconds in the 1984 Vuelta and eight seconds in the 1989 Tour (famously won by American Greg LeMond over Frenchman Laurent Fignon), according to ProCyclingStats.com.
Kuss has broken the American men’s record by leading one Grand Tour after 10 stages. Andy Hampsten had the previous record of nine stages en route to the 1988 Giro d’Italia title, according to ProCyclingStats.
The most stages that LeMond held the yellow jersey among his three Tour de France titles was eight in 1989, according to ProCyclingStats.
Lance Armstrong was in the Tour de France yellow jersey for more days for some of his wins from 1999 through 2006, but those were all stripped due to doping.
Kuss is now four stages from becoming the first U.S. man to win a Grand Tour since Chris Horner at the 2013 Vuelta.
Kuss, who has ridden all 59 Grand Tour stages this year among the Giro, Tour and Vuelta, was before this strictly a domestique for Roglič and Vingegaard on the world’s dominant team.
Roglič and Vingegaard already won the year’s first two Grand Tours. A team has never swept all three Grand Tours in one year, according to cycling media, let alone with three different riders.