Wout Poels of the Netherlands took the victory in the penultimate stage of the Back to Spain in Guadarrama, since, in the absence of the ceremonial stage to Madrid, the American climber Sepp Kuss will complete an unprecedented grand slam in the Grand Tour for his sponsors, Jumbo-Visma.
However, for all the high-fives, warm hugs and fist bumps from his superstar teammates Jonas Vingegaard and Primoz Roglic during this year’s Vuelta, Kuss may still have spent much of the race waiting take out a knife from his back.
The 29-year-old, leader of the Vuelta since the eighth stage, has long been the pair’s most loyal servant, even on the Angliru climb, when Vingegaard, champion of the Tour de France and Roglic, winner of the Giro d’Italia They noticed Kuss struggling, they paid their debt to him by accelerating towards the finish line.
As the race came to a close, Kuss’ overall lead was left hanging by a thread. Outrage quickly followed, both within the race convoy and on social media, over the insensitivity of the Jumbo-Visma team.
Surely the exemplary Kuss, who had sacrificed himself so many times in support of his leaders’ ambitions, deserved to have the favor returned. How could they be so heartless?
The next morning, Vingegaard pleaded not guilty.
“It’s a team sport and Sepp has helped me so many times, so why should I stab him in the back? “That’s not who I am as a person,” Vingegaard said Thursday.
“They put me in a bit of a difficult situation, where I felt like I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
Roglic, however, who had said the day before that he was in the Vuelta “to race”, was ambivalent. “I have my personal thoughts on it,” he said cryptically about his team’s tactics after the internal rivalry ended.
It remains unclear why it took up to 18 stages for the team management to anoint Kuss as their chosen leader in the Vuelta. At that time he had been leading the race for 10 days and the team’s closest rival was four minutes behind.
But as the Vuelta entered its final weekend with Kuss on edge, at least outwardly, there was harmony at last. According to Roglic’s teammate Attila Valter, “even Primoz” was happy to see Kuss win.
Beyond internal politics, the Jumbo-Visma team is on the verge of achieving an unprecedented achievement: victory in the three European Grand Tours of Italy, France and Spain in the same season.
In five months, Roglic has taken the pink jersey of the Giro to Rome, Vingegaard the yellow jersey to Paris and now Kuss will wear red in Madrid.
There have also been other successes: add Wout van Aert’s recent victory in the Tour of BritainRoglic’s multiple victories in the Tours of Catalonia, Burgos and Tirreno-Adriatico, plus Vingegaard’s victories in the Tour of the Basque Country and the Critérium du Dauphiné and his hegemony is complete.
Such dominance had not been seen before in cycling. He has made his legions of fans happy and his skeptics uneasy.
The antidote to any cynicism towards his performances has been Kuss, a man so polite and thoughtful that even after Roglic did not hesitate to leave him behind in the Angliru, he got out of his team car in the mountain drizzle to offer the Slovenian front. seat.
“I’m not the loudest person in the room,” Kuss said toward the end of the week after his team finally agreed to support his leadership in the race rather than undermine it. However, his quiet contribution as the team’s kingmaker has been immense.
“GC Kuss,” as he is known, raced in all three Jumbo-Visma Grand Tour Grand Slam races. The American, who finished 12th overall in the 2023 Tour and 14th overall in the 2023 Giro, was contesting his fifth consecutive Grand Tour serving either Roglic or Vingegaard.
Shortly before the race started in Barcelona, he was asked what his most memorable days in Grand Tour racing had been. After a pause, he said, “Any day on the mountain where I was able to make a difference.”