Sepp Kuss: America’s New Cycling Idol

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reviewed by Rory McAllister
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Sepp Kuss shares an embrace after winning the 2023 Vuelta a Espana.

It’s been a full ten years, but America can finally celebrate having a Grand Tour champion once more.

This past Sunday, 29-year-old Sepp Kuss of Durango, Colorado, clinched victory at the Vuelta a España, earning the honor of being the first American to win such a prestigious cycling race since Chris Horner’s win in 2013.

The only other US riders with such accolades are Greg LeMond, with his Tour de France victories in 1986, 1989, and 1990, and Andrew Hampsten’s Giro d’Italia win in 1988.

Lance Armstrong won seven Tour de France titles, but these were later stripped due to the doping storm that engulfed his legacy – as was the Tour won by Floyd Landis in 2006, also for doping violations.

By the time the riders hit the streets of Madrid for what’s typically seen as a celebratory lap, Kuss had already firmly established his lead.

Reflecting on the race, Sepp Kuss admitted, “Today might’ve been the toughest yet. I’m just relieved and elated that it’s finally wrapped up.”

This isn’t just a win; it’s a transformation.

“As the reality of this moment slowly seeps in, I anticipate a flood of cherished memories. And now? It’s time to revel in the joy with loved ones who’ve journeyed here to share this with me.”

But this leads us to wonder: how did Sepp Kuss transition from playing the role of a supporting domestique to standing tall as a Grand Tour champion?

Sepp Kuss stands atop the Vuelta a Espana 2023 podium with teammates Jonas Vingegaard and Primoz Roglic.

A Family of Athletes

Raised amid the backdrop of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, Sepp Kuss was destined for a sporting life. The Kuss family isn’t just like any other family; sport pulses through their veins.

Dolph Kuss, Sepp’s father, was at the helm of the USA’s Nordic skiing team, guiding them through the Olympic Winter Games of Innsbruck in 1964 and Sapporo in 1972.

With the mountains on his Durango doorstep, young Sepp was continuously nudged by his father to embrace the world of sports. And boy, did he listen!

From the chill of cross-country skiing to the thrill of mountain biking, from kayaking’s rhythmic paddling to the rugged play of ice hockey, Sepp dipped his toes in them all.

However, an interesting turn in his sports journey came when, in pursuit of enhancing his cross-country skiing prowess, he stumbled upon road cycling.

Considering its reputation as a mountain biking haven, Sepp Kuss recalls, “Growing up in Durango, the road bike scene wasn’t big. In fact, amongst my buddies, it was almost seen as ‘uncool’ to have one.”

Despite the local sentiment, Sepp’s fascination for road races only grew stronger with time.

But, before his foray into road cycling, Kuss marked his presence at the 2014 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Lillehammer, Norway.

In the under-23 cross-country race, he clinched the 36th position, followed by a 48th finish the subsequent year.

Not the type to settle, Sepp felt an urge for change.

Sepp Kuss celebrates winning a stage at the Tour de France.
© A.S.O./Alex Broadway

From Campus to the Open Road

When Sepp Kuss began his academic journey at the University of Colorado in 2018, little did he know it would change his trajectory in the world of sports.

While engrossed in English literature and focusing on a major in advertising, Sepp found himself gravitating more towards the road, quite literally.

Colorado, his home turf, boasts an average elevation of 1,000 m (3,300 ft), with climbs rising anywhere between 2,000 and 4,000 m (6,600-13,200 ft). The allure of these climbs made it a perfect training ground for Sepp, pushing him further towards road cycling.

He kick-started his professional journey with the Rally Cycling continental team in 2016.

Just a year later, Sepp Kuss stormed into the top 10 on the prestigious queen stage of the Tour of California and grabbed the silver position at the Tour of Alberta. Not too shabby for a newbie, right?

This young talent didn’t escape the notice of the giants in the cycling world. Jumbo-Visma, a team very much on the rise, quickly extended an invitation to Sepp for the 2018 season.

Reflecting on his decision to join, Sepp shared, “I never specifically aimed for a US team. Transitioning to Europe was a leap in itself. So, I thought, why not take the plunge with a European team?”

For Sepp, life’s zest lies in embracing the unknown. “There’s a thrill in stepping out of your comfort zone,” he muses. “New places, new faces, and fresh perspectives – it’s always a ride worth taking.”

Sepp Kuss rides in support of Jonas Vingegaard at the Tour de France.
Sepp Kuss rides in support of Jonas Vingegaard at the Tour de France.
© A.S.O./Charly Lopez

On an Upward Trajectory

From the get-go with the Dutch ensemble, Sepp Kuss was on an upward swing. His mettle was evident when he clinched the overall title at the Tour of Utah.

This promising start paved the way to two of the most prestigious cycling events: the 2019 Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España.

That Vuelta proved pivotal in Sepp’s journey with Jumbo-Visma. Kuss won Stage 15 over a challenging route to Santuario del Acebo, all the while supporting team leader Primož Roglič to seize the overall Vuelta title.

This marked Sepp’s debut in aiding a teammate to a Grand Tour conquest. And he wasn’t done just yet!

Between 2019 and 2023 Sepp Kuss played a key role in six Jumbo-Visma Grand Tour wins, making him one of the most successful domestiques in recent cycling history.

But when individual opportunities knocked, Sepp answered. Take, for instance, the 2021 Tour de France stage win to Andorra, a place he now calls home alongside his Catalan wife.

Fast-forward to the 2023 Vuelta a España, Sepp’s star shone brighter than ever. His charisma extended beyond the US borders, with Spain also taking notice. His post-race interviews, delivered seamlessly in Spanish, added to his soaring popularity.

As always, Kuss entered the race not to win it for himself, butas a wingman to his Jumbo-Visma comrades, Jonas Vingegaard (a double Tour de France victor) and Primož Roglič (a three-time Vuelta champion).

However, fate would see a very different outcome emerge.

Sepp Kuss: 2023 Vuelta a España Champion

Kuss made a decisive move during Stage 8, earning himself a sizeable lead with what was initially intended as a diversion attack to aid Roglič and Vingegaard by forcing their opponents to expend energy chasing him.

However, it soon became clear that Kuss had the ability and staying power to emerge as a major contender for the overall race win himself.

Controversially, his biggest threats appeared to be his own teammates.

Vingegaard and Roglič, both of whom owed much to Kuss’ support in their own victories, attacked him repeatedly in the mountains – most notably on the ferocious Alto de L’Angliru on Stage 17, after which he clung to his lead by only 8 seconds.

Kuss navigated the situation with remarkable humility, winning himself many new admirers in the process, and with four stages remaining Jumbo-Visma finally appeared to change tack, with Vingegaard and Roglič ordered to support rather than challenge the American.

Kuss sealed his maiden Vuelta a España title on the streets of Madrid, finishing the three-week epic with a mere 17-second advantage. Vingegaard and Roglič came home in second and third respectively.

Sepp Kuss crosses the finish line arm-in-arm with Jonas Vingegaard and Primoz Roglic.

The win marked a historic achievement for both Kuss and Jumbo-Visma, becoming the first team to have won all three Grand Tours in a single season. To have done it with three different riders makes their dominance all the more remarkable.

As Sepp Kuss crossed the finish line, a heartwarming sight awaited – his teammates, donning a unique jersey, celebrating Jumbo-Visma’s historic treble.

“It feels surreal, after witnessing Primož’s triumph in Italy and Jonas’s in France, my aspiration was to contribute to the team’s chase for the Vuelta crown. To stand here as the champion is beyond my wildest fantasies.

“It’s hard to put into words what this means. There came a point where I sensed the win was within reach. Each day brought added strength and belief. Couple that with the might of our team, and it feels like we’re unstoppable.

“The past weeks felt like I had wings. My deepest gratitude to Jonas, Primož, and the entire crew. This is a milestone I’ll cherish forever. The global fanbase’s overwhelming support wasn’t lost on me.

“I’m grateful to every soul who played a part in crafting this epic. Together, we’ve inked history.”

Sepp Kuss raises the trophy for the 2023 Vuelta a Espana above his head on the podium.

From his days navigating the Rockies’ rugged terrain to standing atop the Grand Tour podium, his journey is nothing short of inspiring.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on Sepp Kuss’ remarkable journey.

What does the future hold for Sepp Kuss? Should he return to the support role in which he has made his name as arguably the world’s finest domestique, or has he earned the right to seek further glory in his own name?

Leave your thoughts and predictions in the comments below!

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Quentin's background in bike racing runs deep. In his youth, he won the prestigious junior Roc d'Azur MTB race before representing Belgium at the U17 European Championships in Graz, Austria. Shifting to road racing, he then competed in some of the biggest races on the junior calendar, including Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders, before stepping up to race Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Paris-Roubaix as an U23. With a breakthrough into the cut-throat environment of professional racing just out of reach, Quentin decided to shift his focus to embrace bike racing as a passion rather than a career. Now writing for BikeTips, Quentin's experience provides invaluable insight into performance cycling - though he's always ready to embrace the fun side of the sport he loves too and share his passion with others.

9 thoughts on “Sepp Kuss: America’s New Cycling Idol”

  1. I don’t think Sepp must return to his role as domestique. Jumbo Visma should work out a plan to give all three the opportunity to be team leader in various races.All three have the ability to win classics & tours & if they are not given equal chances other teams will make them offers.Good luck Jumbo Visma.

  2. We owned a house in Durango and the Kuss family was our closest neighbor. We enjoyed watching a young Sepp riding up and down the hills behind us, never imagining where he would go.
    Also, Sepp’s mother Sabina was an amazing road biker as well. She raced the Iron Horse challenge, Durango to Silverton. She was in the senior group but she won the overall competition!

    • I agree it would be awesome to see him backed as the dedicated team leader to challenge the likes of Vingegaard, Roglic, and Pogacar for himself, and it can only be a good thing for cycling to have the best GC contenders spread between different teams to make the racing ultra competitive.

      My biggest concern for Sepp would be that his relative lack of time trialing ability compared to the other top GC guys would hold him back from being a regular contender at Grand Tours, even with the full backing of his team. While he only lost 90 seconds or so in the TT at the Vuelta, to be able to get away with losing those time chunks regularly he’d have to really dominate those guys in the high mountains – which is a huge ask, even for a rider of Sepp’s ability.

      Which brings the question – what is the more attractive option? To roll the dice and move to another team where you’re backed as their man for the GC but have the real possibility that you won’t taste the same success again, or to be a key member of one of the most dominant teams in cycling history with success after success but allowing others to take the limelight?

      I honestly don’t know which of those two options I would choose if I were in his shoes, and which you’d look back on as the greater legacy at the end of a career. I expect that’s the exact debate Sepp is grappling with now! It will be interesting to see how the Vuelta victory will cloud his thinking – will it give him a taste for more, or will he be satisfied to enjoy it as the crowning moment of a stellar career and step back into the support role once more?

      BikeTips Editor


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