Sepp Kuss is victorious
A great Vuelta for Sepp Kuss just got even better, as he claimed his first ever Grand Tour stage win in a mountainous stage 15.
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The young American got into the day’s break, and made a move to win the stage on the lower slopes of the final climb, when he attacked the rest of his remaining breakaway companions. He caught the lone leader Sergio Samitier (Euskadi-Murias) in no time, and soloed all the way up the rest of the climb.
He knew victory was in the bag with 500 metres, when he held out his hand to high five the roadside spectators.
Kuss has already shown great form this Vuelta as a super-domestique, in which role he has regularly thinned out the peloton on climbs to very small selections.
Given the opportunity to ride for himself, the 24-year-old was even more impressive, climbing well enough to suggest that he deserves to lead a Grand Tour team himself some day soon.
Jumbo-Visma confident of GC success
When Sepp Kuss went up the road early in the stage, it looked like a conventional tactical move from Jumbo-Visma, to mark the moves of Movistar (Marc Soler) and Astana (Ion Izagirre), and ensure that they too had a domestique to help their leader later in the stage.
However, while Soler and Izagirre did indeed end up doing small stints of pace-making on the final climb for their leaders, Jumbo-Visma boldly decided that Kuss was surplus to requirements and did not instruct him to drop back to help defend Primož Roglič’s red jersey.
They were justified in their confidence. Roglič comfortably stuck to the wheel of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) all the way up the climb and time was put into rivals Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates), Miguel Ángel López (Astana) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) without the assistance of any team-mates, while Kuss delivered the significant bonus of a stage victory.
These were the indulgences of a team that must feel they have overall victory in the bag.
Valverde is best of the rest
Movistar made a statement of intent by setting a ferocious pace at the start of the stage, and made progress in the general classification as Alejandro Valverde put time into all his rivals, bar Roglič.
The veteran Spaniard made his move at the start of the final climb with a powerful attack that only Roglič was able to respond.
With a gap ahead of Pogačar and López, Valverde pressed on for the rest of the climb, and had put a handy 41 seconds into both riders by the summit at the finish. That’s enough to solidify his position in second overall on GC, extending his lead over Pogačar to 1-17 and over López to 1-34.
With López’s form appearing to be in decline, and Pogačar perhaps feeling some ill-effects of his crash yesterday, Valverde would appear to be favourite to hang on to second overall, even if Roglič seems out of sight on the first step of the podium.
Euskadi-Murias’ Sergio Samitier catches the eye
Euskadi-Murias has been terrific in the breaks throughout the Vuelta, and they continued their hot streak with Sergio Samitier riding aggressively in the breakaway.
The 24-year-old attacked from the break 50km from the finish. He was joined by Ben O’Connor (Dimension Data) and Daniel Navarro (Katusha-Alpecin), but found himself alone when the others dropped back ahead of the final climb.
His day appeared over when Vasil Kiriyenka (Ineos) caught him, but the Spaniard was not done yet, and hung on in there to reserve some energy and later attack his breakaway companion, gaining a gap and again moving into the lead of the race.
His chances of a stage win eventually came to an end when Kuss caught and passed him 6.5km from the finish, bringing to an end what was an admirable display of the kind of resilience and aggression that has defined Euskadi-Murias these past two weeks.
Edet and Hagen remain in the top 10
With just six stages left to ride, there are still two surprise names left in the overall top ten – Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) and Carl Frederik Hagen (Lotto-Soudal).
When both riders were catapulted up the rankings to first and seventh respectively after getting into a breakaway on stage eight, neither rider was expected to stick around for long. Edet did indeed lose the red jersey the very next day, but has since rallied, while Hagen has been quietly consistent.
They’re now seventh and ninth respectively having again defied expectations on today’s mountainous stage. Edet came home alone just 14 seconds behind a group containing Nario Quintana and Wilco Kelderman, with Hagen only 15 seconds further back.
Given their inexperience of riding for GC (Edet is used to riding for breakaways, and Hagen has never appeared in a Grand Tour before), there’s every chance they’ll collapse in the final week, but for now both could hold on to their top 10 positions.