Sepp Kuss, before the interview at his hotel in Torrejón.Andrea Comas
Rainy and ugly Sunday morning in a hotel in an ugly industrial estate in Torrejón, bordering Madrid. The glamour is inside, of course. Remco Evenepoel, the idol of youth, is in a room, and through the lobby walks Jonas Vingegaard, Trine, his wife, next door, Frida, his daughter, on shoulders, and a smile. "I'm happy, I'm happy despite not having won the Vuelta," says the Tour winner, second in the Vuelta, adding, as a priest would in a consoling sermon: "Greed is not good." On a table in the foyer await special Jumbo jerseys – black with three stripes, a pink Giro, another yellow Tour and another red Vuelta, and, in the fanny pack, the legend "Colouring history. The Grand Tour trilogy 2023"—reminding the world that it is the first team whose riders win all three majors in the same year. A way to color also the tensions 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 through the basement of the hotel have not gone to see Vingegaard, precisely, nor Roglic, who does not let himself be seen, but Sepp Kuss, the unexpected client, the gregarious of a lifetime – three Vueltas, two Tours, a Giro, pedaled as a lieutenant, a trusted cyclist, an infallible worker for the star couple – who started the Vuelta with no more concern than not falling on the plain, A bad habit, as they remember the two almost funny band-aids on an eyebrow and on the side of the left eye that have been his trademark the three weeks of the Spanish round, two of them, two thirds, lived in the red leader's jersey. "I have scars from the fall of the Tour," says Kuss, 29, an American from Durango (Colorado), married to Noemi, a Catalan woman, resident in Andorra, love for the Vuelta before it was even reciprocated, and good command of spoken Spanish. "I put on the band-aids to protect them from the strong sun these days..."
Question. At the exit of La Vall d'Uixó the stage of Javalambre, while Roglic and Vingegaard were inaccessible, you spoke relaxed with everyone, as if you were a tourist, and just that day your team organized an escape that changed your life ...
Answer. I just knew we wanted to get on the run. But that was more to help my leaders, because we wanted to put pressure on Soudal and Remco, which at the time was our main rival. But during the stage I was very, very good and I thought today I'm going to win, because I have the legs to win. I hadn't won anything for a year or two years and for me, and I like my job as a gregarious, winning is very special. But yes, since then everything changed.
Q. And that his team regulated not to arrive with more than three minutes of advantage, because they could have arrived with six perfectly on Roglic and Vingegaard and that day would have ended everything ...
A. Yes, of course, but we didn't do it because Marc Soler was also on the run and Landa... There was a lot of level.
Q. You were a person who did not want to spend three weeks stressed, thinking only about the general, but when you took the lead, after the eighth stage, it is as if you took a liking to the weight of the jersey ...
A. In most races, especially the big ones, I have many days of voluntary disconnection, and that helps me. That's why I can do three majors in the same year [he is the first rider since the Florentine Gastone Nencini winner of the 1957 Giro to finish all three majors the same year winning one of them], 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 bit of pressure off me, because I had no expectations in the mountain stages or in the time trial, because I didn't know how far my body could go because with the calendar I already had [in 2023 Kuss has competed 77 days: the three three-week majors plus the Tour de UAE and the Tour of Catalonia in February and March], It was always a doubt. And if it failed, nothing happened.
Q. Know the great success now. Will he want to return to the base, where he feels so comfortable?
A. 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've also surprised myself by how I've handled things during the race, the pressure, the rivals outside the team and, in the last week, inside the team, in good vibes, but rivals all the same. And that gave me a lot of confidence.
Q. Do you see yourself as a Joker in the future?
A. That. My role could be that of a rider who has nothing to lose or play a little bit of my characteristics, because the other teams also don't know how far I can go in a general in the Tour in the Giro or whatever. And so I can help other leaders, but I can also play my options.
Q. He talks about his love for the Vuelta, reciprocated by the fans since, perhaps, he won the stage at the Holly in 2019 and celebrated happily by shaking hands with the fans. He is not shy when it comes to showing his joy...
A. Yes, because I can't win any race, any race, and at that stage in the Vuelta, in the 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, I was surprised, and that gave me more joy, more than a race you go to win, yes or yes.
Q. Despite his "good vibes" with Roglic and Vingegaard, didn't he feel betrayed by them at some point? In Bejes, where Vingegaard attacked, or in the Angliru, when the two left, leaving him alone?
A. Yes, puff... After the Bejes stage I was a little 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 three strongest and that complicated things a bit, and at that moment I realized that I could lose the jersey to a teammate, which for me is a bit strange, and they were not attacking me to take off my jersey. But yes, they are also runners and in the end rivals. I hardly 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, yes, a little...
Q. In the Angliru they attacked him perhaps to see if he was a worthy winner... and resisted in red for eight seconds.
A. Yes, right. Before there was a meeting between us and we had agreed things more or less like that, but I did not expect that they were going to continue to throw butt on the flat part after the top. When I was at that point in the race, I was just thinking 'I'm going to lose the jersey and that's fair but'...; When I saw the stage I was a little sorry, but yes...
Q. Did Landa's wheel save you?
A. Yes, yes, yes... I also know that he was making his career and I'm also a rival, but in the end he helped me and...
Q. After the 23rd of the trilogy comes the 24th... I guess the main problem will now be in November or when they decide on the targets for next year, right? Are you going to ask to be a leader in a race?
A. Nope. 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 was the Giro I could go there to test the general and, if it doesn't go well, look for stages and that's perfect, that takes a little pressure off.
Q. The complicated thing will be to distribute the Jumbo among three and that they are all happy.
A. 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 been in the end lower than in the Tour, for example and that helps. In the Tour will be Pogacar, Ayuso, Yates, other rivals ...
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