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On Sunday night, long after the final Tour de France photographers and fans had left the Champs Élyseés, Team Jumbo-Visma gathered for a quiet dinner near the Tomb of Napoleon in the city’s seventh arrondissement.
The dinner came a day after Jumbo’s star Primož Roglič had lost the yellow jersey in a surprise upset to countryman Tadej Pogačar on the Tour’s only individual time trial — a result that shocked both men as well as their respective teams. But on Sunday night in Paris, Jumbo-Visma’s riders and staff came together to celebrate in lieu of the defeat.
“Even though we lost the jersey on the last day, it was still a real celebration,” American Sepp Kuss told VeloNews. “We recognized everything that went into it and everything we went through together. Honestly, our spirits were really high. Yeah, we finished with high spirits.”
Kuss was Jumbo-Visma’s breakout star of the race, shepherding Roglič in the high mountains and finishing alongside the Tour’s top climbers in just his first Tour de France ride. He was fourth atop the Col de la Loze, and was the only Jumbo-Visma rider to make the front group with Roglič a day later on the Plateau des Gliéres.
And throughout the race Kuss and his teammates Tom Dumoulin, George Bennett, Tony Martin, Wout van Aert, and Robert Gesink simply overpowered the other squads in the race, among them Ineos-Grenadiers, the richest squad in the event.
So, to see their leader Roglič upended on the final time trial left the team feeling stunned in the hours after the individual race up to La Planche des Belles Filles on stage 20.
“I think that, initially after the TT, everybody was a bit like ‘woah.’ Of course you knew it was a possibility, but you also didn’t see it,” Kuss said. “I guess everything up until then was going so well to plan, and everybody was feeling good. We saved energy for the last TT, so everybody was a bit shocked in the end.”
How did Jumbo-Visma go from shocked and awed atop La Planche des Belles Filles, to celebrating in high spirits in downtown Paris? Kuss said the team endured the typical come-down that occurs after each stage, where emotions and adrenaline gradually melt away amid cool-down routines, hot showers, and massage.
Then, it was Roglič who personally helped the riders move past the negative emotions of the loss.
“It was a lot of seeing Primož afterward that did it,” Kuss said. “He was obviously disappointed, but he was still positive, saying ‘Well, we gave it our best, and thank you for everything you did, and that’s how sports can be.’ He had a really good outlook on the situation.”
Roglič’s explosive riding and thrilling victories overshadowed the poker face he maintained during post-race press conferences. Roglič stuck to the talking points and rarely gave away any hint of emotion or feeling when he spoke to the press.
Roglič showed rare signs of sadness atop La Planche des Belles Filles, admitting to reporters that he was bound to cry after the loss before moving forward with the race. Kuss said he saw Roglič’s emotion once the team reached Paris, and the race concluded amid thousands of screaming fans.
“For most of the highs and lows, he’s good at riding those out — he doesn’t get overly excited about a win or a loss,” Kuss said. “When we did finish in Paris, that was the first time I saw him a bit emotional. You have that iconic finish, everyone is celebrating, and reality sets in. You could see how much it meant to him to get past his crash at the Dauphiné and being in the yellow jersey. It was definitely an emotional moment.”
Yet it was Roglič’s gracious attitude, Kuss said, that helped the squad process and then move past the defeat in little more than a day’s time. Kuss said that after the result at La Planche des Belles Filles, Roglič expressed happiness for his countryman Pogačar. He congratulated his teammates, and he let everyone know they had done good work.
“He said we can always be happy with what we did, and that there were no regrets along the way,” Kuss said. “That helped switch the mindset. When a leader is that positive it means a lot.”