One of the most vivid memories of the 2021 Tour de France for many fans was Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) escaping to the Pyrenees to claim a heartfelt victory on his ‘home’ soil in Andorra.
For all his hugely impressive climbing ability so clearly on display that day, the American will be making some interesting changes to his pre-Tour preparation for 2022 as he seeks more consistency.
The reason, Kuss recently told Cyclingnews, is that last July, when he started the Tour, “I didn’t feel close to being at my best. So this year I’m doing things a little differently .”
“A little different” sounds like an understatement when the 27-year-old from Colorado actually describes his running program for 2022.
Last year, the UAE Tour, the Volta a Catalunya, the Tour de Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphine were all on the programme. But rather than mention any of those races for 2022, Kuss will do “a few one-day races in France to start, then Strade Bianche, Tirreno, Pays Basque and the Tour de Suisse.”
His schedule is a similar number of race days compared to 2021, but Kuss will make his debut at Tirreno, “because we’re going to go there with Jonas Vingaard and I want to help him. Also, I never Tirreno has done before and it’s good to do new things.”
Further into the season, the pre-July change in his races is due to the fact that “last year I didn’t feel good for the Tour. There were only training camps, races and training camps and sometimes you overdo it.”
After a rise that didn’t go too well in 2021, and a Tour de France where – following the early exit of Primoz Roglic – the rest of the Jumbo-Visma team stepped in to fill the gap, the Tour 2022 and its preparation may well be easier for Kuss.
“If we go there with Primoz and Jonas, we already have two guys more than capable of winning the race,” Kuss points out. “So unless it’s like last year where things totally change, I’ll probably have more of a team role.”
But while things are much clearer for Kuss regarding the Tour de France, for the Vuelta a España things are currently much hazier than in 2021. And they will probably remain so until the arrival of the Champs Elysées.
“We’ll see what happens and who goes to the race after the Tour. I hope to be there,” said Kuss, who earned his first-ever top ten overall in a Vuelta Grand Tour while helping Roglic to a third right. victory.
“For me it’s a good combination to do the Tour and the Vuelta. Normally I always feel better in the Vuelta than in the Tour, so we’ll see what the line-up looks like. There’s also a counter- the team time trial in the Vuelta, which changes things too.”
While presenting the Jumbo-Visma team on Tuesday, a commentator observed that despite being more than capable of matching or even surpassing some of the biggest GC names on the planet on the climbs at times, Kuss has yet to gain a degree of consistency throughout races that would allow him to fight for Grand Tours on his own.
Channel that has thought back to the man himself, and the American recognizes that he is not yet “in a position where I want to claim absolute leadership. It’s something I want to do, but I have to still working in that direction and still winning that role.”
But to gain this consistency, what is the best strategy for Kuss? Improving things he already does or experimenting with new approaches? “A bit of both. It’s partly mental because it’s always easy when you’re feeling good. It’s more about getting through the bad days you have and mitigating that.”
With riders like Vingaard rapidly rising through the GC ranks at Jumbo-Visma, you could argue that Kuss, at 27, might feel the performance pressure has gone up a few notches. But he doesn’t see it that way.
“No. It’s up to me to be at my best and it’s good for me if the other riders improve. It’s just nice to be part of it anyway.
“For me, it’s a bit different. With Jonas, we always saw from the start that he really had talent. It was just a matter of him doing that.” [succeed]. And he did it a little earlier than maybe we all thought.”
Kuss’ string of high-level climbing successes made him America’s top stage racer around, with his Tour de France stage win the first for North America in a decade. While he’s more than comfortable with the fact that other American riders view his career path as a path to breaking into high-level cycling, he’s not obsessed with be considered as a reference.
“I don’t know much about it, because I haven’t really given too much advice to anyone, I just stay to myself a little bit, I do my own thing. I always work the best I can. I can and then the results are because of it,” says Kuss.
Still, he agrees that his career “sets a good example for American guys who come because more often than not you have to come to Europe, be comfortable in Europe, ride for a non-American team. It’s about getting out of your comfort zone in what is now my comfort zone, so that’s the biggest step.
In the United States, while there’s no reason the quality of riders has declined, the road racing scene is a shadow of what it once was. Cycling has simultaneously diversified, creating a new kind of challenge that riders must master to progress, says Kuss.
“It’s just different now, where the sponsors and the interest are, you can see that in the American gravel scene which is really big, the crits… We definitely miss the big road races now, that’s is really sad to see a race like Utah go” – the 2018 edition was one of Kuss’ defining events – “also California”.
On the other hand, “There are more runners coming from different disciplines, and there are always races, just more different genres. If an individual really wants to do something or race in Europe, there are more “one way to do it. I’ve never really ridden for the USA U23 team for example. So you just have to find your own way.”
Fast forward to Kuss’s present and his strategy for 2022, he says, is to continue on the path that has proven so beneficial in 2021.
“Building on last year, improving in small ways. A win is always nice. So we’ll see.”
But in any case, he says, there are certainly areas where he can raise his own game, although at 27 he is already “not young in age, especially in terms of cycling.
“I still have a good margin. Considering the actual years I spent as a professional, road cycling and all the nuances are still new for me. So I still have a lot of margin for improvement.”