Sepp Kuss’ pathway towards his first Grand Tour victory at the Vuelta a España cleared notably on Thursday as Jumbo-Visma’s three leaders made a marked switch of tactics, going from ‘every rider for himself’ to a much more conventional defence of the American’s red jersey.
On the previous two summit finishes at Bejes and the Angliru in the third week, Jumbo-Visma’s strategy saw teammates Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglič both going for stage wins and making notable inroads on Kuss lead in the process.
But on the second double ascent of the Alto de la Cruz de Linares on stage 18 Thursday, the Dane opted to sherpa the North American up the key segments of the climb, before Kuss responded to some late attacks by Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates).
Kuss subsequently explained that the notable difference in strategy from what had originally been decided on the second rest day was due a radical revision of tactics after the Angliru, which he called ‘fair’.
“We discussed what had happened in the two stages before the Angliru, so there was a ‘before’ the Angliru and an ‘after’ and that for me, was fair.”
Referring to the intense controversy and confusion Jumbo’s ‘every man for himself’ tactic had generated in some quarters, Kuss pointed out that “of course there’s always tension when you take yourself out of the race and you see things in a larger scope, but not necessarily in a negative sense.”
He also pointed out that Jumbo’s seizing the top three places on the podium on the Tourmalet and maintaining them deep into the third week – a situation which has not occurred in a Grand Tour in nearly half a century – had made it harder to work out what to do.
“There was a lot of negativity [on social media] surrounding those two stages, which was hard to read, because we agreed on our plan before the Angliru,” he said.
“We’d never imagined we’d be the strongest three guys in the race, and that complicated things in a way that we were less reactive than others, and more looking for ways, or wanting to win, which is completely normal. So after yesterday, we had to reel things in and understand the bigger picture.”
Kuss provided extra context to that situation by explaining the leadership role was almost completely new to him. It’s certainly one which he has never had in a Grand Tour, or indeed any stage race since the Tour of Utah back in 2018, and that upward switch in status to put him on a level footing or ahead of…