Analysis: What is going on with Jumbo-Visma and Sepp Kuss at the Vuelta a España?

The man in the red jersey was attacked for the second day running by his teammates, for seemingly little gain

Sepp Kuss on stage 17 of the Vuelta a España
(Image credit: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

"Go guys!"

That's apparently what Sepp Kuss said on the radio to his two Jumbo-Visma teammates, Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglič, as they powered on up the Angliru without him on stage 17 of the Vuelta a España.

They didn't drop Kuss to follow a dangerous attack, or because there was another rival closing in, from behind, no. They dropped Kuss seemingly just because they could. The American was the man in the race lead, and still is by a slender margin over Vingegaard, but there was little thought given to protecting this lead, to going to the finish as a three for a historic photo, as Roglič and Vingegaard went up the road. Maybe they slowed up a bit at the finish, maybe? But not really.

Perhaps, to give them the benefit of the doubt, they thought Kuss really had popped completely, with 1.6km to go, and that they needed to keep riding to ensure Jumbo-Visma got the stage win, but there didn't appear to be any real effort to allow Kuss to stay on. The fact that the pair only gained 19 seconds on their American teammate, and that he's still in red, rather rubbishes that idea. They still got the 1-2-3 on the stage, they still have 1-2-3 on general classification, but the whole situation seems muddy, confusing, and fraught.

Roglič won the stage, with no celebration, as is his wont, with Vingegaard in toe, and then Kuss sprinted in 19 seconds later. One wonders if this is the harmonious team image Jumbo-Visma wants to present to the world, especially as a team searching for a title sponsor for next year. If you're going to be so dominant, why not do it in a more photogenic way?

It was the same story on Tuesday, too, when Vingegaard attacked to victory, taking over a minute on his teammates in the process. The mitigating factor was that this was an attack to honour the hospitalised Nathan Van Hooydonck, but it still looked weird.

Kuss would surely be an ideal winner of this Vuelta, and looks able to do so: he has worn the red jersey for nine days already, tomorrow is the last mountainous test, and he has four minutes over the nearest non-Jumbo challenger (Juan Ayuso of UAE Team Emirates in fourth). Jumbo-Visma pretty much have the podium sewn up, with Roglič in third almost three minutes ahead of Ayuso. 

Imagine, the first team ever to win the three Grand Tours in one year, doing so with three different riders, one of whom is the most promising American rider since, well... Surely, this is the kind of PR blitz that Jumbo could not turn down, and yet it seems like they're not just turning it down, but setting the idea of Kuss winning on fire and stomping it out into a bin.

It is Kuss' 29th birthday, too, for added pain.

Roglič has already won three editions of the Vuelta, and this year's Giro d'Italia; Vingegaard is the defending two-time Tour de France champion. Kuss has been the dream domestique for the pair in their Grand Tour triumphs, and yet it seems they are all too ready to piss on his chips, rather than pay him back handsomely.

To add to the confusion - if it isn't clear, I'm confused - Vingegaard stressed post-stage that he would "love" to see Kuss win the Vuelta. Well, why do you keep taking time on him then, Jonas?

“The win today was our main goal and to keep the situation 1-2-3 on GC," the Dane said. "Everything went how we wanted and I think we can be happy with everything. To be honest, I’m still happy Sepp is in the jersey.”

“To be honest, I actually hoped that he will keep the jersey. I would love to see Sepp winning this Vuelta a España”

For Roglič, he "just wants to race", apparently. He said Kuss was the first rider he'd want to win, but seeing as he's there, and in the red jersey, he's apparently going to race "man on man". Right.

"On the one hand you want to keep it going, and on the other hand I don’t want to keep it going," the Slovenian said. "I said to him, where I went, it was man on man, and the road will tell who is best. But keep fighting.

"Sepp is the first guy I wish would win, but looking at myself, and my responsibilities… I’m here to race, do my best, and at the end the best one will win."

It doesn't make any sense, and my brain hurts. Jumbo-Visma will almost definitely end up taking home the red jersey, but it doesn't seem like they want it to be Kuss. Why not? We don't know. Maybe Roglič and Vingegaard really can't abide the thought of not winning. We might well find out what the real plan is on Thursday.

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Adam Becket
Senior news and features writer

Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.