On the eve of the first high mountain stage of the Vuelta a España, race leader Sepp Kuss both recognised that a major battle awaited and that his rivals could launch long-distance attacks, but he also insisted on keeping a broader perspective on Friday’s stage 13 that finishes atop the much-feared ascent of the Tourmalet.
“I’ve done the Tourmalet a few times, and it’s quite long, but to be honest, it’s a bit overhyped,” Kuss told reporters after an incident-free stage 12 across the flatlands surrounding the easterly city of Zaragoza.
“It’s an impressive climb for sure and very scenic near the top, but it’s pretty regular for the most part.”
For most of its 18.9 kilometres, the western side of the Tourmalet, which the riders will tackle on stage 13 after the HC-rated Aubisque and category 1 Spandelles, consists of a steady grind at around 7% to 8%. It only rises to 9% in the last two kilometres before the summit finish, where there are also a couple of ramps at 13%.
Race leader Kuss was cagey about the strategy that his team would take on such a difficult stage, saying that a definitive plan had yet to be formulated. But while both Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard are waiting in the wings at 1:32 and 2:02 respectively on GC, the American argued his team could well take things conservatively.
“We’ll see what we can do, but we can play things defensively. We can wait for our rivals to attack; it’s them who have to pull back time on us,” he said.
“Friday is a short, explosive stage, and we can expect some rivals will try to make their move from a long way out.”
That said, Roglič’s willingness to act on impulse and go for some bonus seconds in an intermediate sprint on an otherwise unremarkable stage for the GC riders on Thursday was anything but planned, Kuss confirmed. But he said it was the right thing for Roglič to do as “there’s always a rival who could try to take the time bonus instead.”
It is true that a handful of seconds have decided Grand Tours as recently as the Giro d’Italia this May. But the key question of how Jumbo-Visma will play out their high mountain strategy with three leaders will only emerge on Friday.
Asked directly if he would understand a team decision that went against him, Kuss both insisted on his own ambition and possible limitations but also underlined the all-for-one-and-one-for-all philosophy at Jumbo-Visma.
“Amongst us, it really doesn’t matter if I win, if Primož wins or if Jonas wins. Right now, I’m in the…