Sepp Kuss’s unlikely victory in La Vuelta a Espana could provide a timely boost for a flagging road cycle racing scene in the United States, according to Chris Horner whose 2013 triumph Kuss emulated on Sunday.
The 29-year-old Kuss entered the race as a ‘domestique’ for more illustrious Jumbo-Visma teammates Jonas Vingegaard and Primoz Roglic. But after taking the red jersey on stage eight he never let it go, despite attacks from within his own team. Kuss ended a 10-year wait for an American Grand Tour win and will go down as one of the most popular winners in recent times – disproving the theory that nice guys don’t win.
Whether he can become a regular GC contender depends very much on the strategists at Jumbo-Visma but in winning a race more brutal than the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia he proved that he is far more than a loyal servant to so-called big names. Horner, whose victory at the 2013 Vuelta made him the first official US rider to win a three-week race since Greg LeMond in 1990, hopes Kuss’s heroics have an impact back home in a country still scarred by Lance Armstrong’s doping notoriety.
The road race scene is hardly booming in the U.S with few stage-racing opportunities for up-and-coming riders after the demise of the Tour of California, Colorado and Utah.
“I hope to see that this gives US racing a kick and that we see sponsors come back,” Horner told cycling platform GCN.
“You can get more US teams finding sponsorship instead of having just Lidl-Trek and EF Education-EasyPost, who don’t have that many Americans on the team, and it could possibly bring in more sponsors and help the sport grow. “The racing scene in the US is drowning or at best its nose is over the water. Hopefully this brings out the exposure but it does take a few years, it doesn’t happen immediately.”
Kuss’s victory was all the more remarkable as until the last few days it appeared unclear whether Giro d’Italia champion or Tour de France winner Vingegaard were helping him or trying to seize the red jersey from him.
Vingegaard attacked on stage 16 and took one minute out of Kuss’s lead and on stage 17, ending on the infamous Angliru climb, Kuss was again left by his illustrious teammates but hung on grimly to finish third and stay in the lead.
Jumbo-Visma’s tactics were criticised after that, with many believing Kuss should have been protected – given all the years he has spent helping Vingegaard and Roglic win multiple Grand Tours, including at this year’s Tour de France and Giro.
“The management at Jumbo only turned the page because there was an outcry from fans and a PR nightmare that Jumbo were going through,” Horner told GCN. “That’s why they turned the page. They didn’t turn the page because Angliru was done. It was a nightmare scenario. They were having meetings before the race, during the race, after the race, and then before everyone went to bed. They were probably having their alarm clocks go off at 2am for another meeting. There was a lot of pressure there for Sepp (to win) and the team eventually came around.”
Dutch outfit Jumbo-Visma became the first team to win all three Grand Tours in a season, culminating in a sweep of the podium in Madrid.
“Winning together is not only our slogan but also our trademark,” CEO Richard Plugge said.
Overall leader Team Jumbo-Visma’s US rider Sepp Kuss celebrates on the podium after winning the 2023 La Vuelta cycling tour of Spain, in Madrid. (AFP)