This article first appeared in Spanish at Volata
Sepp Kuss' triumph in the Vuelta a España 2023 represents the success of a tireless, gregarious man. A hard-working and conscientious cyclist, with a captivating personality, who has always put his innate talent on mountainous days at the disposal of his teammates. A cycling journeyman whose circumstances – and unmatched legs – have finally placed him in a privileged position after being a key element in the numerous victories of Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard. Kuss is a bicycle lover, “just another globetrotter”, as he has repeated several times during the race and as he acknowledged to us in Issue 35 of Volata. He is now also the winner of a Grand Tour, the first American to do so in a decade since veteran Chris Horner in the Vuelta in 2013.
Kuss's task when the race began in the rainy, chaotic and nocturnal opening team time trial in Barcelona was none other than to continue with his main job: being the best domestique within Jumbo-Visma. Being used to experiencing Grand Tours from that perspective helped him. “Arriving at La Vuelta being, in principle, a domestique, I think it helped me. I didn't come with the hope of doing a great overall, but now I am in this position and I have discovered things I didn't know about myself and my abilities in the Grand Tours,” he said at the Guadarrama press conference after the penultimate stage. “One of the most important parts is mental strength, being focused every day and knowing how to survive or endure when you are going through a difficult time.”
The American made it into the breakaway on the sixth day on the way to Javalambre that ended up changing the story of the Vuelta 2023. At the top of the Astrophysical Observatory he left one of those glimpses of his super class when he had a certain freedom and, almost unintentionally, his role in this edition of the Spanish race changed. It was also where he won the hearts of the fans even more with that drink from the bottle of cava. However, the Valladolid time trial became a turning point: “After the Tourmalet stage I realised that red was possible, because I felt very good and had great confidence. Although perhaps the decisive moment was the time trial, because I performed 10 times better than I expected and it was a key day to defend the lead for the rest of the race.”
The loss of Remco Evenepoel in the general classification equation, together with the superiority of the Jumbo-Visma trident, became an apparent increase in internal tension trying to manage egos. Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard tried to mark territory while Sepp Kuss was the target of friendly fire, and Kuss was the one who later tried to stop the conflict with his communicative naturalness in the post-stage interviews. From Cruz de Linares onwards the atmosphere was different, since the final decision of who would lead the team had been made. “It is something that is agreed and discussed between the three of us,” said Sepp Kuss. Jonas Vingegaard continued along the same lines: “These are internal things of the team that I think should not be commented on.” Roglič was even more forceful: “The best one will win.”
The image of the Slovenian and the Dane escorting a rider who has been their faithful squire for years at the Guadarrama finish line was perhaps the one that the vast majority of fans wanted. A gesture that magnifies both, but also confirms the supremacy of the Dutch team, taking the podium and conquering the three Grand Tours in 2023. “They are two great champions and they have sacrificed their personal ambitions to help me. That is something that is really very complicated when you are used to winning the best races in the world,” explained Kuss. Furthermore, the American did not close the door to assuming a leadership role in the future, but confessed that he is happy with the role that has led him to this situation: “I would like to have the opportunity to try it more times, but I also like my role.” as a domestique.”
That Sepp Kuss was the favorite of the Spanish fans has been felt at every start and at every finish, especially during the last week of the race. The 29-year-old is an approachable and affable rider who has connected with the public through his way of understanding cycling. “Every year I feel a little more Spanish. My wife, who is Catalan, helps me get even closer to all the people here. There is a great passion for cycling in Spain and I too am a fan. I like to discover different routes, areas and corners, altitudes and things like that and that allows me to connect with fans,” he says. To which Primož Roglič added, laughing: "Kuss, Kuss, Kuss."