Wout Poels claimed victory in stage 20 as Sepp Kuss is poised to win the Vuelta a España.
Wout Poels from the Netherlands won the second-to-last stage of the Vuelta a España in Guadarrama. With only the final ceremonial stage to Madrid left, American climber Sepp Kuss will achieve a unique accomplishment for his sponsors, Jumbo-Visma, by completing all three Grand Tours.
Despite receiving praise and support from his talented teammates Jonas Vingegaard and Primoz Roglic throughout the Vuelta race this year, Kuss may have still had lingering doubts and suspicions about potential betrayal from within the team.
At 29 years old, the leader of the Vuelta since stage eight has always been the most dedicated member of the team. However, during the Angliru climb, when Kuss was struggling, Tour de France winner Vingegaard and Giro d’Italia champion Roglic showed their gratitude by picking up the pace towards the finish line.
As the race came to an end, Kuss’s top position was in jeopardy. Many expressed anger, both among those involved in the race and on social media, at Jumbo-Visma’s heartlessness.
Definitely, Kuss, who had frequently put aside his own needs to help his leaders’ goals, deserved to have his kindness reciprocated. How could they be so cold-hearted?
The following day, Vingegaard claimed innocence.
Vingegaard stated on Thursday that he is a team player and has received a lot of assistance from Sepp. He does not believe in betraying someone who has helped him, as it goes against his personal values.
I found myself in a challenging position where I felt trapped and had limited options.
But Roglic, who had previously stated that he was at the Vuelta to compete, maintained a non-committal stance. “I have my own thoughts on the matter,” he cryptically commented on his team’s tactics after the internal rivalry was resolved.
It is unclear why the team management waited until the 18th stage to name Kuss as their leader in the Vuelta. At that point, he had already held the race lead for 10 days and the closest rival was four minutes behind.
However, as the Vuelta reached its final weekend and Kuss was on the brink of victory, there appeared to be a sense of unity. According to Roglic’s teammate Attila Valter, even Primoz was pleased to see Kuss take the win.
Other than the team’s internal conflicts, Jumbo-Visma is on the verge of accomplishing something never before seen: winning all three of Europe’s major cycling races (Italy, France, and Spain) in a single season.
In just five months, Roglic has gone from wearing the Giro’s pink jersey in Rome to Vingegaard wearing the yellow jersey in Paris. And now, Kuss is expected to wear the red jersey in Madrid.
Additionally, there have been other notable achievements, such as Wout van Aert’s recent triumph in the Tour of Britain, Roglic’s numerous wins in the Tours of Catalunya, Burgos, and Tirreno-Adriatico, and Vingegaard’s victories in the Tour of the Basque Country and the Critérium du Dauphiné, solidifying their dominance.
This level of dominance is unprecedented in the world of cycling. It has brought joy to their many followers and discomfort to those who doubted them.
Kuss has been the solution to any skepticism about their performances, as he is a kind and considerate individual. Even after being left behind by Roglic on the Angliru, Kuss still showed his graciousness by offering the Slovenian the front seat in the team car during a rainy mountain stage.
“I am not the most vocal individual in the room,” Kuss stated at the end of the week once his team had ultimately decided to back his role as race leader instead of sabotaging it. However, his subtle influence as the team’s key decision maker has been significant.
Known as “GC Kuss,” the American rider competed in all three of Jumbo-Visma’s major Grand Tour races. In 2023, he placed 12th overall in the Tour and 14th overall in the Giro, marking his fifth consecutive Grand Tour supporting either Roglic or Vingegaard.
Just before the race began in Barcelona, he was questioned about his most significant moments in Grand Tour racing. After a brief moment of silence, he responded with, “Any day in the mountains where I could have an impact.”