American Sepp Kuss is one of a handful of riders debuting in a grand tour at the Vuelta a España, but he made the switch from small continental Team Rally Cycling in the US to go to the top in Europe. And he is pulling at the front of the mountains for his LottoNL-Jumbo leaders.
The "huge change" came about this year when he proved himself at the Critérium du Dauphiné. The Dutch WorldTour team put the Colorado native on the long list due to illnesses in the team. He then won three stages and the overall the Tour of Utah.
"It's a little bit unexpected with my first Grand Tour. I wasn't sure what it'd be like," Kuss told Cycling Weekly.
"My goal going into it was just to finish, honestly, so it's definitely been above expectations right now, but it's always nice when you can out do what you thought was possible.
"It's a huge change [from Team Rally]. I'm slowly getting my legs under me in Europe and in a big team, it's been a big change but I've had great support all year and it's been fun."
Kuss was one of two Americans to join the team this winter with Neilson Powless. Powless, 21, came from amateur team Axeon Hagens Berman and Kuss from Team Rally.
In LottoNL-Jumbo's yellow kit, he checked his green Bianchi bike and prepared for another Vuelta stage. Team leaders Steven Kruijswijk and George Bennett passed by to retrieve their bikes.
"He blew the races to pieces the other day," Bennett said of Kuss's work in the mountains. "You see him leading the peloton with only around 15 riders left."
Kuss moved quickly to the WorldTour ranks, taking up road racing after a mountain bike deal didn't materialise. In 2016, he climbed to victory the queen stages in Redlands and in the Tour de Beauce. The following season, he placed 10th in the Tour of California's Mt. Baldy stage and sixth overall in the Colorado Classic.
This year, seeing his abilities, LottoNL gave him space in its teams for the Tour of the Basque Country, the Tour of the Alps and then the Critérium du Dauphiné. The team would not usually take neo-professionals to Grand Tours, but the management made an exception.
"Every day, I'm really enjoying it and it's cool to be up there and with a lot of big names in the mountains," Kuss said. "It's awesome with the fans, big walls of fans on the mountains. I'm just taking it all in."
Kuss has been riding at the front with names like Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Rigoberto Urán (EF Education First-Drapac). The idea is that anything is possible for him and the team's overall with Kruijswijk and Bennett after an impressive season for the team. The team won the team time trial in the Tour of Britain and in July at the Tour de France, placed fourth overall with Primož Roglič and fifth with Kruijswijk.
"Anything is possible, there is no clear favourite in the Vuelta right now," Kuss said. "Everyone is close in on the GC. It's going to be hard stages, and that's where those guys are going to shine."
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