Nestled amidst the Pyrenees, where the borders of France and Spain meet, lies the tiny principality of Andorra. Its high-altitude settlements, dramatic mountain peaks and ribbons of quiet, skyward roads offer the perfect training ground for a burgeoning cycling community that currently hosts some 86 WorldTour riders. Among them is American climbing specialist Sepp Kuss, who lives in Andorra year-round with his wife, Noemi Ferré –a former professional rider herself– and their dog Bimba.
"It's surprisingly peaceful," says the 29-year-old Durango native and Vuelta a España champion. He chose Andorra for its world-class climbs (on which he holds more KOMs than anyone else) and the ability to train and race at altitude.
Spotted from his deck view, Col de Beixalis looms as a daily source of inspiration. It's on this 8.2-kilometer climb that Kuss clinched stage 15 of the 2021 Tour de France, outpacing Alejandro Valverde to the finish line – a pinnacle of his career at the time and perhaps a prelude of what has since followed.
"It's always easier going up it when I know what happened there a few years ago, and it's nice when you can relive those moments," Kuss shares as he hosts Marc Figueras from Thomson Bike Tours at his home during the waning weeks of winter downtime before his return to action in service of the Visma-Lease a Bike team (formerly Jumbo-Visma).
From his favorite foods (Mexican) and music (country and reggaeton) to his career-defining 2023 season and ambitions ahead, this exclusive interview offers a deeper insight into the worker-bee-turned-underdog-GC champ who stole our hearts last August.
Visma - Lease a Bike's Second Card
Kuss' Vuelta success was overdue.
The so-called "Eagle of Durango" has long been celebrated for being one of the best climbers in the peloton and an indispensable helper in the Grand Tour success of Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard. Through unforeseen circumstances, Kuss finally got a shot at his own glory in Spain and made it count. He earned the red jersey after stage eight and, despite some questionable team antics, managed to keep it all the way to Madrid, 13 stages later. In doing so, Kuss became the first American to win a Grand Tour in a decade and the second American ever to win the Vuelta. The helper turned hero overnight, surprising even himself.
"It was only halfway through the Vuelta, after the time trial, where I thought, 'Okay, I think I have the legs to win the race'. But before that, I never had any thoughts about doing my own race or going for my own results. So it was a surprise," says Kuss.
The surprise, however, lay in the opportunity more so than the legs. The watts and the potential were there all season long.
"Between the Giro, the Tour and the Vuelta, all the numbers were the same in terms of the climbing performances," he shares. "For me, the big difference was in the time trial because it was the first time trial I did where there was actually something to lose, where I actually had to really push myself to the limit."
"Once that was done, it was just about being really focused and sharp. It was also the first race where I had an actual need to be really on top of things every single day. So that was, I think, what the team maybe was most surprised about."
While his team, already a stacked powerhouse, realized it had yet another ace in its midst, Kuss walked away with calm confidence. Rather than seeking leadership opportunities at lesser teams, he extended his Visma - Lease a Bike contract through 2027, embracing being the "second card" now that Roglič has gone to Bora.
"I think [the win] showed me that, with that same level of form, I can fight for the Grand Tours. I can be with the best guys. That gives me a lot of confidence. But it also gives me a lot of calm," Kuss says.
"But the team, they've realized what I can do now…and yeah, there's more opportunities, but at the same time, I'm not necessarily looking for absolute leadership or anything like that.
In the end, it's really simple. If you're strong enough, then you will always have those opportunities automatically."
Despite his watershed 2023 season, Kuss' approach to the 2024 season is no different than in the past. His sights are set on another Tour de France and Vuelta a España double, and he's poised to defend his coveted maillot rojo in August.
"I only feel pressure from myself. I never feel it from the team. Of course, they want the best from me, but they don't expect anything that's beyond what I can do," Kuss shares.
"For the big goals, like the Tour, the Vuelta, the Grand Tours, I feel the least pressure because I know that I'm at my best for those races. I don't feel like there's anything else to show or prove. There's no ground to make up because I know if I do my best in training, then whatever is meant to be in the race will come to fruition."
For fun nuggets about his home life and his thoughts on the future of American cycling, be sure to watch the entire 30-minute video above or on YouTube.
Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1