It’s a fair statement, and one that shows a shift in the American’s mindset. Now a Grand Tour winner himself, having won last year’s Vuelta a España, Kuss’s role is transforming, from a selflessly loyal domestique, to a rider with his own GC ambitions. He believes that he can win big, and who could blame him?
Kuss’s Vuelta victory was an instant hit with the fans. It marked his first stage race win at WorldTour level, and only his second after the 2018 Tour of Utah. Crucially, though, it showed him as an assured GC leader.
For the 29-year-old, it left him hungry for more. “Of course I want that,” he said when asked if he’d like to have his hands in the air more often. “But it’s not something I have to do. The Vuelta victory has made me have more confidence in myself. But I don’t feel the need to do something I’m not capable of.”
What about the Tour? “Yes, why not?”
To gauge Kuss’s chances of winning the yellow jersey this summer, first we have to look at the race route. The mountains are the American’s bread and butter - few climb better than him - and the road goes uphill from day one in Florence, Italy, with the Col du Galibier coming as early as stage four. A total of five summit finishes will play into his hands. The time trials, however, less so.
Kuss will face two tests against the clock this July, albeit ones with climbs. The first arrives on day seven, through the Bourgogne vineyards, and packs a measly 1.6km ascent at 6.1%. The second is the race decider, from Monaco to Nice on the final day, up and over the 10km-long Col d’Èze. Kuss should fare well - but will he fare better than his team-mate, time trial and climbing sensation Jonas Vingegaard?
The Vingegaard question is the real hurdle to Kuss’s Tour success. Forget beating the other GC contenders, first he’ll have to win the hierarchy battle within his own team.
“Strategically speaking, it doesn’t hurt to start with two leaders,” Kuss told Wielerflits. Visma-Lease a Bike has tried this before, in fairness, and with success, too. At the Tour in 2022, Primož Roglič wore the number one dossard, flanked by Vingegaard, who went on to win after the injured Slovenian withdrew.
The same duo set out to share leadership at last year’s Vuelta, as well, both finishing on the podium behind Kuss.
Still, there were murmurs - loud ones too - that Roglič and Vingegaard weren’t so content playing second fiddle to their domestique in Spain. They even appeared to attack Kuss, leaving him floundering in a bid to hang onto his red jersey on the Altu de L'Angliru. He did, and Roglič left the team for Bora-Hansgrohe at the end of the season.
Some argue that Vingegaard could have won that Vuelta, had he not ultimately decided to support Kuss. By that same line of thinking, who’s to say Kuss couldn’t have won the last few Tours, had he not ridden in support of Vingegaard? In any case, the what-iffery is futile.
With Roglič's departure, Kuss expects there will be “more options” for him going forward, “more room” to take on a leadership role. “I think Jonas and I can also work well together,” the American explained. “We have similar qualities in the mountains. It is always good for us to have two riders at the top of the rankings.”
Vingegaard, however, might see it differently. Will the Dane, the winner of the last two Tours, want to share leadership in the most important race on his calendar? Probably not, especially if the rider he's sharing with is his most valued mountain lieutenant. Will the team really want to upset a winning formula?
This, in the end, is likely where Kuss's yellow jersey hopes fizzle out. As long as Vingegaard is competitive, the hierarchy looks set in the Dane's favour at Visma-Lease a Bike. He's under contract until the end of 2028, too.
That said, it's testament to Kuss that he wants to win cycling's biggest prize, and believes in his ability to do so. For now, though, at least, a podium finish might be more on the cards.
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