Interview – Sepp Kuss, the best climbing domestique in pro cycling – Ciclismo Internacional

Interview – Sepp Kuss, the best climbing domestique in pro cycling

By @pmpalermo

Who was the last domestique standing at the Tour? Who was the last domestique standing at the Vuelta? Sepp Kuss. The American has firmly established himself as the best climbing domestique in professional cycling, but will he make the step forward to race leader in 2021?

Foto: Jumbo-Visma

You finally raced the Tour, how was it?
It was quite an experience! Being part of such a strong team and fighting for the win was something I will never forget. Every rider, every team was riding at such a high level during the Tour, so it was exciting being there in the mountain stages- something I never would have imagined being able to do.

Last time we talked you said that you had to improve your focus in order to be a Grand Tour contender. Did you improve that at some point this year?
I think so. Now that I’ve done more races and more Grand Tours, I know more what to expect, and that helps my focus and my confidence. Now I feel I have more of a place in the peloton and can focus on being in front at the key moments and not being overly relaxed.

Back in 2019 you did better in Dauphiné and La Vuelta than in the Giro. This season you were better at Spain than in Le Tour. Agree? If so…are you a second effort rider?
Based on my feelings, yes, I think I am more of a ‘second effort rider.’ I always seem to feel at my best later in the season once I have more races and training in my legs. It’s not that I don’t normally train enough before a race or during the pre-season, but I feel like my motivation and fitness get better as the year goes on.

You were magnificent at Dauphiné. Do you agree that more was expected from you at Le Tour?
Yes, I think after the Dauphine there were more expectations to be with the favourites on the decisive stages of the Tour. However the Dauphine also took some pressure off leading into the Tour because I knew I was in good enough shape and didn’t have to worry about much in the weeks before the Tour. In the Dauphine we also saw how strong the rest of the team was, and that gave us a lot of confidence for the Tour.

Several times we saw you attacking in the closing stages of mountain days. Were the team, or Rogla, trying to reward your job with a win?
Most of the time it was more of a tactical play to draw the other rivals out. Maybe in some cases it would have been possible to win, but the main objective was to help Primoz win the stage or gain time. For me I really enjoyed this strategy, because I could give my best effort. Sometimes in other situations I was there with the leaders, but due to a more defensive strategy, I would only be in the wheels the whole climb.

You said that “being the best at the end of the day is what matters to be a leader”. You´re better than most of your teammates…Are you going to lead the team in some race of 2021?
I hope so! I would love to target races like Volta Catalunya, Itzulia, and La Vuelta, but we will see what the plans are for 2021. Either way, I want to see what’s possible in more climbing stage races next year. I am happy to give 100% to the team in races like the Tour, but I also hope I will have my chances in other races.

There is a lot of criticism about Jumbo’s racing mode. Do you do it this way because Roglič can sprint and is very strong against the clock? But he lost le Tour and Carapaz was close in La Vuelta…
I think we raced to our strengths in the Tour. We knew the final TT would be decisive, and rode in a way to maintain the time gaps going into that stage and ‘save’ energy by having a controlled race in the stages before the TT. Primoz doesn’t mind if there is a lot of attacking a long way from the finish, but if we use our collective strength in a ‘train’ he can also take time bonuses. I admit, it’s not the most exciting way of riding, but everyone at the Tour is at such a high level that it almost discourages attacking racing, especially if there are one or two really strong teams.

Are you (as a team) going to change something after the 2020 season? Pogacar´s performance was from another planet and maybe you still believe everything was done perfect.
I think we are happy with how we approached the Tour and the 2020 season as a whole. Looking back at the Tour, I think it would have been difficult to put more significant time into Pogacar in the mountains with a different strategy. You just have to look at the climbing times and power we did on the final climbs to realize that the differences would have been marginal in the mountains. Maybe the tactics would have been different if UAE had to defend the yellow jersey in the third week. In that case maybe we could have approached the race differently.

How hard were the moments after Roglic’s defeat at Le Tour?
It was a strange moment. A bit of a shock, but I tried to stay positive. Maybe it was easier for me because it was my first Tour, and I could look back and be happy to be part of the team that was at the head of the race every day. It was difficult seeing the disappointments of the directors and staff who had spent the past year preparing everything for the Tour. I felt bad for Primoz because maybe he was worried he had let us down, but he still did a really good TT, Pogacar just did an exceptional effort. Every one of us was proud of the effort we put in and what a great leader Primoz was for the whole three weeks.

You´re a pure climber… why can´t the climbers make bigger gaps over mountain rouleurs? Can the climbers improve against the clock?
It probably depends on a lot of things. Like I said, the dynamics of the race change depending if there are really strong teams in the mountains. It makes it harder to risk attacking from a distance. The courses also will make a difference, maybe shorter climbing stages, or stages where the hardest climb isn’t the final climb would make it easier for the climbers to make bigger gaps and take more risks.

Are you worried about INEOS next season? They´ve added a lot of talent…
They will have a lot of talented riders on the team next year and I’m sure they can go into most races with a top squad and multiple leaders. At the end of the day you still need a proven leader with a winning instinct otherwise a strong team can only do so much.

Pablo Palermo

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