La Vuelta: Sepp Kuss, winner of La Vuelta: “I have surprised myself by how I have handled things” | Cycling | Sports

The Cycling Tour
Sepp Kuss, before the interview at his hotel in Torrejón.Andrea Comas

Rainy and ugly Sunday morning in an ugly industrial estate hotel in Torrejón, bordering Madrid. The glamor is within, of course. Remco Evenepoel, the idol of youth, is in a room, and Jonas Vingegaard walks through the hallway, Trine, his wife, at his side, Frida, his daughter, on his shoulders, and a smile. “I’m happy, I’m happy despite not having won the Vuelta,” says the winner of the Tour, second in the Vuelta, and adds, as a priest would do in a consoling sermon: “Greed is not good.” On a table in the lobby, some special Jumbo jerseys are waiting neatly folded – black with three stripes, a pink Giro, a yellow Tour and a red Vuelta, and, on the fanny pack, the legend “Colouring history. The grand Tour trilogy 2023″— that remind the world that it is the first team whose riders win the big three in the same year. A way to also color the tensions that have been generated by a leadership shared by three ambitious cyclists. In two of them, Primoz Roglic, winner of the Giro and podium in the Vuelta, and Vingegaard have colored the story, but in all three only the winner of the Vuelta has painted. The journalists who move around the basement of the hotel have not gone to see Vingegaard, precisely, nor Roglic, who does not show himself, but Sepp Kuss, the unexpected client, the lifelong gregarious – three Tours, two Tours, a Giro, pedaling as a lieutenant, as a trusted cyclist, as an infallible worker for the stellar couple—who began the Vuelta with no other concern than not to fall on the flat, a bad habit, as the two almost funny strips on an eyebrow and on the side of his left eye that have been his trademark during the three weeks of the Spanish round, two of them, two thirds, spent in the leader’s red jersey. “I have scars from the fall of the Tour,” says Kuss, 29, an American from Durango (Colorado), married to Noemí, a Catalan woman, living in Andorra, love for the Vuelta even before being reciprocated, and good handling of the spoken Spanish. “I put the band-aids on to protect them from the strong sun these days…”

Ask. At the start of the Javalambre stage from La Vall d’Uixó, while Roglic and Vingegaard seemed inaccessible, you spoke relaxedly with everyone, as if you were a tourist, and just that day your team organized an escape that changed you. life…

Answer. I only knew that we wanted to get me into the escape. But that was more to help my leaders, because we wanted to put pressure on Soudal and Remco, which at that time was our main rival. But during the stage I felt very, very good and I thought today I’m going to win, because I have the legs to win. I hadn’t won something for a year or two and for me, and I like my job like a gregarious person, winning is very special. But yes, since then everything changed.

P. And that his team regulated so as not to arrive with more than three minutes of advantage, because they could have perfectly arrived with six over Roglic and Vingegaard and that day it would all have been over…

R. Yes, of course, but we didn’t do it because Marc Soler and Landa were also in the breakaway… There was a lot of level.

P. You were a person who didn’t want to spend three weeks stressed, thinking only about the general classification, but when you took the lead, after the eighth stage, it’s as if you took a liking to the weight of the jersey…

R. In most races, especially big ones, I have many days of voluntary disconnection, and that helps me. That’s why I can make three big ones in the same year. [es el primer ciclista desde el florentino Gastone Nencini ganador del Giro de 1957 que termina las tres grandes el mismo año ganando una de ellas], because I have many days where I can disconnect, not totally, but without carrying as much pressure as the leaders. But, from the moment I wore red, I felt responsibility to maintain the lead. I didn’t know how far I could go and that took a little pressure off me, because I had no expectations in the mountain stages nor in the time trial, because I didn’t know how far my body could go because with the calendar I already had [en 2023 Kuss ha competido 77 días: las tres grandes de tres semanas más el Tour de UAE y la Vuelta a Cataluña en febrero y marzo], it was always a doubt. And if he failed, nothing happened.

P. You already know the great success. Will you want to return to base, where you feel so comfortable?

R. I have reached the peak of my career and this is an unforgettable moment because I have won the race that for me is the most important, the race that I feel the most. But I have also surprised myself by how I have handled things during the race, the pressure, the rivals outside the team and, in the last week, within the team, in good spirits, but rivals just the same. And that gave me a lot of confidence.

P. Do you see yourself as a joker in the future?

R. That. My role could be that of a rider who has nothing to lose or play my characteristics a little, because the other teams don’t know how far I can go in the general classification in the Tour in the Giro or whatever. And so I can help other leaders, but I can also play my options.

P. He talks about his love for the Vuelta, reciprocated by the fans since, perhaps, he won the stage in Acebo in 2019 and celebrated happily by high-fiving the fans. He is not at all shy when it comes to showing his joy…

R. Yes, because I cannot win any race, any test, and in that stage in the Vuelta, in Acebo, I was on the run, in the same situation, almost, as this year, in the sixth stage. I was there with good legs and confidence to win the stage and when I won it, it surprised me, and that gave me more joy, more than a race that you go to win, no matter what.

P. Despite your “good vibes” with Roglic and Vingegaard, didn’t you feel betrayed by them at some point? At Bejes, where he attacked Vingegaard, or at Angliru, when the two of them left, leaving him alone?

R. Yes, puff… After the Bejes stage I was a little, I don’t know if disappointed, but a little confused about how things were going to be. Before that stage I didn’t know that the three of us were going to be the strongest and that complicated things a little, and at that moment I realized that I could have lost the jersey to a teammate, which for me is a little strange, and they were not attacking me to take my jersey, but yes, they are also runners and in the end rivals. I barely slept that night because I had so many thoughts about who I am to them and who I am to the team, what role I serve, yeah, a little…

P. In the Angliru they attacked him perhaps to check if he was a worthy winner… and he resisted in red for eight seconds.

R. Yes of course. Before there was a meeting between us and we had agreed things more or less like this, but I didn’t expect that they would continue pushing hard on the flat part after the summit. When I was in the race at that moment, I just thought ‘I’m going to lose the jersey and that’s fair but’…; When I saw the stage I was a little sad, but yeah…

P. Did Landa’s wheel save you?

R. Yes, yes, yes… I also know that he was doing his career and I am also a rival, but in the end he helped me and…

P. After the 23rd of the trilogy comes the 24th… I guess the main problem will now be in November or when they decide the objectives for next year, right? Are you going to ask to be a leader in a race?

R. No. In principle, no. I would like to go to a grand tour like the Giro or the Vuelta with freedom but it is not a way to be the only leader. If, for example, it were the Giro, I could go there to test the general classification and, if it doesn’t go well, look for stages and that’s perfect, that takes a little pressure off.

P. The difficult thing will be to distribute the Jumbo among three and make sure everyone is happy.

R. Yes, in this race we saw how complicated it is to have two or three leaders, but also in this Vuelta the level of the rivals has ultimately been lower than in the Tour, for example, and that helps. In the Tour there will be Pogacar, Ayuso, Yates, other rivals…

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