Sepp Kuss is quickly approaching the start of the 2021 World Tour cycling season. He will enter in the final year of his current contract with Team Jumbo-Visma and with more opportunities to race for personal results.
Now well renowned as one of the top road cycling climbers in the world, the 26-year old from Durango is set to embark on his fourth season as an International Cycling Union (UCI) World Tour rider. In 2020, he made his Tour de France debut and completed his third Spanish Vuelta. With his appearance in the 2018 Giro d’Italia, he has now started and finished five Grand Tour events – cycling’s marquee 21-stage races.
“In a lot of ways, I feel different,” Kuss said in a preseason video interview released by Team Jumbo-Visma. “I think I’ve obviously learned a lot, but through that I’ve gotten more confidence in myself and the confidence knowing I can be there with some of the best riders a lot of the times. That’s something I never really envisioned when I started.
“I’m still figuring things out, figuring out what kind of rider I am, but for me, it’s also exciting because I never had any predisposed idea of, at least when I started my career, of what I wanted to do in the sport. It’s nice to still be figuring that out. I’ve definitely matured a lot along the way.”
Kuss is on the Team Jumbo-Visma roster for the 2021 Tour de France and Spanish Vuelta. While he is expected to once again serve as a crucial support rider for team leader Primoz Roglic at the Tour de France, Kuss could earn a team leadership opportunity of his own at the Vuelta along with Dutch rider Steven Kruijswijk.
Kuss won a stage at the 2019 Vuelta. Last year, he had five top-10 stage finishes at the Vuelta and finished 16th overall. That came after he shined in France with a 15th-place overall finish. He placed sixth and fourth on stages 15 and 17, respectively, with brilliant climbing performances.
“Obviously, I like the Grand Tours,” Kuss said. “But, if I’m realistic, I still have a lot to work on to be able to contend for the Grand Tours.”
Roglic would finish second at the Tour de France after losing the leader’s yellow jersey in the individual time trial on the penultimate stage. Kuss was happy to serve in his supporting role and sacrifice the chance to go for stage wins to keep Roglic in yellow throughout the Tour.
Kuss then went on to help deliver Roglic to a second consecutive Vuelta victory.
Earlier in 2020, Kuss won the final stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné in France a day after Roglic abandoned the race following a crash.
Kuss has earned a team leadership role at the week-long Volta a Catalunya in March in Spain. Success could give him the chance at a co-leadership role at the Spanish Vuelta, where no American has stood on the final podium since Chris Horner won in 2013.
Kuss has embraced his role as a support rider over the years after his fast transition from mountain biker to World Tour cyclist. With leadership roles come more pressure he has previously avoided. But after some of his dominant performances in 2020, more opportunities are going to come calling to the 2012 Durango High School graduate.
“Either leading or being co-leader. For me, it doesn’t matter as long as I have the opportunity to at least try and do it in a calm way,” he said.
Kuss has shown he can not only climb with the best in the world but can finish solidly and safely in the peloton on sprint stages. His next step toward being a general classification contender will be with time trial improvement. He said that is something he has worked on diligently in the offseason, which he has spent in Spain as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made international travel a complication.
Kuss also is a strong candidate to race for the U.S. at the rescheduled 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, if the Games are held. It could lead to a busy summer with the Olympics squeezed between the Tour de France and Vuelta.
But he made it clear, the Vuelta is a big goal for 2021.
“With it being that late in the season, we’ll see,” he said of his chance to be a team co-leader. “There can always be changes in the roster. We’ll see how I come out of the Tour and everything but, yeah, it’s an objective that’s exciting to have.”