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Kuss and Jumbo-Visma help Vingegaard win second Tour de France

Kuss part of sixth Grand Tour winning team
Sepp Kuss of Durango, center, competes in the 2023 Tour de France. Kuss finished 12th in the race's general classification while helping his leader Jonas Vingegaard win the race’s yellow jersey. (Courtesy Team Jumbo-Visma)

Team Jumbo-Visma and its leader Jonas Vingegaard locked up their second straight Tour de France victory on Sunday. Sepp Kuss of Durango played an integral part in Vingegaard’s general classification win and was often Vingegaard’s last domestique remaining to help him climb the mountains through Spain and France. Kuss was also in the top-10 of the general classification for most of the race. A crash on Saturday, however, required him to get some stitches on his face and cost Kuss about 20 minutes, bumping him to 12th in the GC. It was Kuss’ second crash of the Tour, after a spectator previously bumped into him and caused a mass wreck in the peloton. Kuss’ job, however, was to help to Vingegaard win and he did just that.

“It was really cool,” Kuss said. “It was a nice experience, but also a relief when you get there and know it’s over. I was more mentally exhausted; it was the first moment we had to feel tired.”

Sepp Kuss of Durango, left, celebrates with his Jumbo-Visma teammates as leader Jonas Vingegaard secures the yellow jersey during the final stage of the 2023 Tour de France on Sunday in Paris. (Courtesy Team Jumbo-Visma)

Kuss has now rode in Tour de France four times, also helping Vingegaard win in 2022, and said this one was among the toughest.

“It was up there with the tougher ones I’ve done,” Kuss said. “Every year the Tour is the race where the level is the highest. Every rider is in their best condition and the teams have the most to gain on every stage. Even what are considered recovery stages are super hard.”

The route also changes every year, and that meant Jumbo-Visma would finish, not begin, with stages that played to Vingegaard’s strengths.

“The course didn’t suit him as much as last year, which had more climbing and altitude,” Kuss said about Vingegaard. “It was a more explosive race in the first half, which was suited more to (Tadej) Pogacar. We knew with Jonas’ strengths, we had to wait until the third week and its mountain stages … we were playing the long game.”

Jumbo-Visma played the long game perfectly. What started as a razor tight dual between Vingegaard, the defending Tour champ, and two-time winner Pogacar of UAE Team Emirates ended with a celebratory spin into Paris.

Vingegaard first took the yellow jersey from Jai Hindley of Bora-hansgrohe after Stage 6 and held on to it until the Stage 21 climax, but his lead was less than a minute for most of the Tour.

Vingegaard only led Pogacar by 25 seconds after the sixth, seventh and eighth stages and then Pogacar cut the lead to 17 seconds on Stage 9. The margin didn’t change until Stage 13 when Pogacar was able to chip the lead down to nine seconds. Vingegaard gained one second on Stage 15 and went into the individual time trial with a 10-second lead.

Taking risks and riding aggressively on his time trial bike during Stage 17, however, helped Vingegaard create some distance in the overall standings.

Sepp Kuss competes in the 2023 Tour de France. Kuss finished 12th in the race's general classification. (Courtesy Team Jumbo-Visma)

Wout Van Aert of Jumbo-Visma was in the hot seat of the time trial after posting the fastest time among the first 154 riders. Pogacar did the 22.4-kilometer course 1:13 faster than Van Aert to take over the lead, but Vingegaard, the last rider to go, rode even faster and won the stage by 1:38.

“It was really impressive,” Kuss said about Vingegaard’s win the time trial, which ended up being Jumbo-Visma’s only stage win. “Before that, no one could tell what the difference would be. That margin gave us a lot of confidence for the next stages.”

The next day, which was a mountain stage ending with a climb up the Col de la Loze, Vingegaard and Jumbo-Visma blew the race wide open, extending his overall lead to 7:35.

The stage had several long mountain climbs early on and then finished with a grueling one.

“The last five kilometers of the last climb is one of the hardest climbs in cycling,” Kuss said. “We were riding our pace, a pace that was good for Jonas, and over the radio we heard Pogacar was starting to struggle. I tried to lift the pace a bit and solidify the gap, then Jonas took off.”

The gap, Kuss said, helped the team ride a little more defensively on the stages after that, while continuing to fight for stage wins and other goals.

Pogacar battled back and won Stage 20, his second stage win of the Tour, but Vingegaard finished right behind him and only conceded six seconds to Pogacar.

After the Stage 20 result, Jumbo-Visma was able to celebrate on its way to Paris where Vingegaard ultimately won the yellow jersey.

“It's a dream to win the Tour de France again this year,” the 26-year-old Vingegaard said. “The Tour is and remains the greatest cycling race in the world. I am very proud of the team. We have achieved this together. It is a victory for all of us. I could not have done it without the support of my wife and little daughter. I consider myself a family man, so being together is very important. I felt this warmth from my family during the last period, but also from my teammates. After three intense weeks, we can celebrate this triumph.”

Kuss ended up finishing 12th in the race’s general classification, out of 176 riders, including six Americans, who started the Tour. Kuss was in the top-10 for much of the race, but a crash on Stage 20 bumped him down to 12th place where he remained. Kuss ended up finishing 37:32 after Vingegaard. Vingegaard rode the Tour’s 3,404 kilometers (2,115 miles) in 82 hours, 5 minutes and 42 seconds.

“The result doesn’t mean much to me, whether I’m sixth or 12th,” Kuss said. “I had no result expectations coming into the race, but it was nice to be there in a lot of key moments.”

The two crashes Kuss was in didn’t help his overall result, but he was able to finish and continue to help Vingegaard.

“Unfortunately a spectator had his arm out, just clipped me and I crashed,” Kuss said about the first incident.

The second crash occurred on Stage 20 when Kuss said the rider in front of him had his wheel blow up.

“I had no where to go,” Kuss said. “Luckily I was able to pick myself up both times … when you have the yellow jersey, there’s no time to think about hurting.”

Another Durango cyclist Quinn Simmons of Lidl-Trek, wasn’t so lucky. Simmons crashed on the fifth stage and was able to continue for a couple days, even helping teammate Mads Pedersen win Stage 8, but ended up withdrawing from the Tour before Stage 9. Simmons also rode in the Tour last year.

Jumbo-Visma, meanwhile, finished the Tour almost at full strength. Van Aert left the Tour to be with wife, who was expecting their second child, but Vingegaard had a huge GC lead at the time and the rest of his team in tact.

“This is another wonderful milestone in our team's history,” Jumbo-Visma CEO Richard Plugge said. “We went into this Tour de France more confidently than last year. We know what it takes to win the Tour, but you never get used to it. Everyone can tell you how beautiful it is, but only when you experience it, you know what it is like. It has been a fascinating Tour at the highest level. We have done a lot as a team to be the best, even in the details. I think that made the difference again this year. We strive for perfection in every detail. The Tour de France is our top goal every year. There is something magical about the fact that, after last year's resounding success, we have done it again this year. It also makes me very proud that in addition to the general classification and a stage, we also won the team classification. That is the symbol of winning together.”

The 2023 Tour de France jersey winners celebrate on Sunday. From left: points winner Jasper Philipsen, general classification winner Jonas Vingegaard, king of the mountain Giulio Ciccone and youth winner Tadej Pogacar. (Courtesy Team Jumbo-Visma)

“After winning three Vueltas, a Giro and last year's Tour, we know better and better how to tackle a three-week grand tour,” Plugge continued. “Everyone at Team Jumbo-Visma understands that we all know what it takes to be the best. We keep setting the bar higher and higher. We are always looking for ways to improve. We will continue to do so after this victory.”

Kuss was a part of all six of the team’s Grand Tour victories. “Most importantly, we have two of the best riders for Grand Tours in the world,” Kuss said about the titles. He also credited the whole team, it’s culture and staff.

“In Grand Tours, there are no egos,” Kuss said. “Every one knows their purpose and gives everything for one leader. We have so many talented riders on the team, but at the end of the day everyone has a lot of humility and understanding of what it means to work as a team.”

Jumbo-Visma also won the team title in the Tour, finishing 13:49 ahead of UAE Team Emirates.

“Initially there wasn’t much emphasis on it; it’s bit more complex to go for it,” Kuss said. “In the third week we were in the running for it, so we decided ‘why not?’ It’s also really prestigious.”

Grand Tour sweep?

With the Tour de France victory, Jumbo-Visma has now won the first two Grand Tours this year. Before the Tour, Kuss helped Primoz Roglic win the Giro d’ Italia’s general classification.

The final grand tour of the year will be the Vuelta a España, and Kuss said both Vingegaard and Roglic will race for the team.

Kuss, however, is unsure if he’ll also race in the Vuelta, which starts in five weeks.

“If I feel good, I would love to do it,” Kuss said. “If I don’t, it’s probably better not to suffer for three weeks.”

From a racing standpoint, he said he liked how the Tour de France was set up, with some tough mountain stages early on to establish a hierarchy in the GC, which he said reduced crashes and made it safer.

Now, however, he has some well-deserved time to recover.

“It was a wild ride,” Kuss said. “It was three weeks of intense focus.”

Team Jumbo-Visma rides around the Louvre on Sunday in Paris during Stage 21 of the Tour de France. (Courtesy Team Jumbo-Visma)