Power analysis: Sepp Kuss’s stage 15 win at the Vuelta

We examined Sepp Kuss's power data from his victory on stage 15 of the Vuelta a España. Kuss was calm during the race's midpoint before unleashing a sustained surge of power on the final climb.

Photo: Getty Images

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Sepp Kuss competed in his first road race just four years ago.

By now you’re likely familiar with Kuss’s meteoric rise through pro cycling’s ranks. In 2016, his first season on the road, he won the Queen stage of the 2016 Redlands Classic, finished top-10 at the Tour of the Gila, and won the Queen stage of the Tour de Beauce, within the span of three months. He signed with Rally, and turned heads at the 2017 Amgen Tour of California, before making the leap to the WorldTour with LottoNL-Jumbo, where he dominated the Tour of Utah and raced the Vuelta a España last season.

That fast rise takes us to 2019 and Kuss’s wild ride during the Vuelta a España’s 15th stage, where he was given a chance to make a break for himself. With teammate Primoz Roglič well-protected in the peloton behind, Kuss descended his way into the breakaway, and simply rode away from everyone on the final climb to take his first-ever grand tour stage victory.

So, what did Kuss’s victory look like from a numbers perspective? We took a deep dive into Kuss’s power data, and explored the numbers he produced to get into the breakaway, drop his breakaway companions, and then solo away to the stage victory:

Full stage power data

Distance: 154.4 km (95.9 miles)
Time: 4:23:59
Elevation Gain: 3110 meters (10,155 feet)
Avg Power: 273 W (4.26 W/kg)
Weighted Avg Power (Strava): 303 W (includes neutral zone)
Work: 4440 kJ

Sepp Kuss
Height: 1.8 m (5 ft 9 in)
Weight: 64 kg (141 lbs.)
Age: 24

A look at Kuss’s power data from stage 15 of the Vuelta a Espana. Photo: Strava

Making the break

It took nearly 40 km for the breakaway to get away. The GC teams were especially aggressive, with Movistar, Sunweb, Astana, and Jumbo Visma all putting riders up the road. Kuss was especially cagey in this portion of the race, saving his energy for when it mattered most, and not wasting his matches on the long, flat road leading into the day’s first climb. As the peloton ripped across the landscape at over 50 kph, Kuss remained calm in the field, his heart rate barely breaking tempo (based on his stage-max of 190 bpm) in the race’s first half hour.

Early part of the stage
Time: 20:36
Avg Power: 254 W
Avg HR: 142 bpm
Max HR: 166 bpm
Avg Gradient: 1.0%
Avg Speed: 48.6 kph (30.2 mph)

Kuss (2nd from right) rode the first climb in the pack. Photo: Getty Images

The ascent of Puerto Del Acebo

The peloton was ripped apart on the first climb of the day, the Puerto Del Acebo. For this section, Kuss averaged over 6 Watts/kg; and that was just following the wheels.

Puerto del Acebo:
Time: 20:19
Avg Power: 393 W (6.1 W/kg)
Avg HR: 175 bpm
Max HR: 187 bpm
(Final 2 km: 5:43 at 417 W)

Kuss followed the wheels and, on the descent, found himself in the break of the day with 16 other riders. The peloton began to ease off, with Kuss’ teammate, Tony Martin, taking the reins for the majority of the day.

Kuss was remarkably efficient and relaxed during much of the stage. Photo: Strava

The KOM to Puerto del Connio

The day’s 2nd KOM climb was the Puerto de Connio, and at an average of just 6.4%, it was much shallower than steep climbs in Andorra and Cantabria. The breakaway rode steadily up this climb, wisely saving their matches for the Cat 1 climbs to come. Kuss’ remained calm during this climb, his heart rate even dampened from the stint on the valley road, despite his average power rising above 300 watts.

Puerto del Connio:
Time: 33:36
Avg Power: 301 W
Avg HR: 150 bpm
Max HR: 166 bpm

Kuss’s calm demeanor was even more apparent on the descent off the Puerto del Connio, winding 11 km down the road in just 11:30.

Puerto del Connio Descent (Steep Part):
Time: 11:30
Avg Power: 55 W
Avg HR: 103 bpm
Max HR: 129 bpm

Kuss (center) made his way into the day’s breakaway. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Climbing the Puerto del Pozo de las Mujeres Muertas

The third climb of the day was the Puerto del Pozo de las Mujeres Muertas, an undulating climb with a plateau in the middle, averaging 7.1%. Kuss rode with the breakaway much like on the Connio, a hard tempo, but without any serious attacks.

Puerto Del Pozo De Las Mujeres Muertas:
Time: 34:19
Avg Power: 309 W
Avg HR: 155 bpm
Max HR: 163 bpm

Approach to Santuario del Acebo

The run-in to the final climb was long and flat, and Kuss was able to save his energy here, still following the wheels and waiting for his team leader Roglič.

Approach to Santuario del Acebo
Time: 25:53
Avg Power: 230 W
Avg HR: 144 bpm
Max HR: 161 bpm

Kuss upped the tempo at the base of the final climb. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Santuario del Acebo

As the breakaway began the final climb to the finish, the gap to the peloton hovered around four minutes. After some discussion with the team car, his team directors likely determined that the gap was big enough for Kuss to battle for the stage win.

Puerto del Acebo 
Time: 28:03
Avg Power: 392 W
Avg HR: 184 bpm
Max HR: 190 bpm

The breakaway split on the early slopes of the climb, and Kuss was one of the main protagonists, driving the pace and dropping his breakaway companions with still 7 km to go. Kuss never put in a major attack to get separation. He averaged 515 watts for 21 seconds, and that tempo is what created the gap. Just inside 7 km to go, Kuss passed the leader on the road and moved into the lead.

Kuss made his final move with 5km to go on the climb. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Kuss’s final attack

Incredibly, after being in the breakaway for over 100 km, Kuss climbed the Puerto del Acebo faster than Top 10 GC riders Nairo Quintana, Wilco Kelderman, Hermann Pernsteiner, Sergio Higuita, Nicolas Edet. In one of the most memorable celebrations we’ve seen in a long while, Kuss gave high fives to fans his way all the way to finish line, taking the first grand tour stage victory of his young career.

Kuss’s data from the final climb of the day. Photo: Strava

Attack up the final slopes 
Time: 23:38
Avg Power: 397 W (6.2 W/kg)
Max Power: 616 W
Avg HR: 185 bpm
Max HR: 190 bpm
Avg Gradient: 10.5%
Avg Speed: 17.5 kph (10.9 mph)

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