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The American climber looked like he might have had the legs to go for the stage victory on the iconic climb, and instead of following the winning attack from Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling), Kuss stayed loyal to his team colors. Roglič struggled to match archrival Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) in the final 2km, and it was Kuss who helped pace the Slovenian to the line.
“I think Sepp could have gone for the win today, but it was shit that he had to stay and help me,” said a thankful Roglič at the line Sunday. “I think he could do it today, but he needed to stay with me to support me. Hopefully, in the next days, he will have some opportunity [to win a stage], but we will give it all together to win the overall.”
The tight GC battle in this year’s Vuelta is pulling the carpet out from underneath Kuss for any chance to go for a stage victory.
Last year, Kuss had the freedom to chase personal ambitions as Roglič was firmly in control of the overall leader’s jersey. In 2019, Kuss won out of a breakaway on stage 15 when Roglič was defending a lead of more than two minutes with a week left to race.
In 2020, the tussle for the overall has been knotted up from the first stage. Though Roglič has won three stages so far, he started Sunday’s 12th stage tied on real time with Carapaz, and two others were within one minute of the lead.
By the time the dust settled at the top of the brutal Angliru summit, Carapaz regained the lead following a searing late-stage attack, and Roglič settled into second at 10 seconds adrift. With his stage win, Carthy climbed into podium range at third at 32 seconds back, with the ever-steady Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) ceding some time, but staying close at fourth at 35 seconds back. Enric Mas (Movistar) retained fifth despite attacking from afar Sunday to settle in at 1:50 in arrears.
With the overall battle still far from decided, Kuss is not seeing the freedom he enjoyed during the 2019 Vuelta when Roglič was leading in dominating fashion.
“That’s life,” said Jumbo-Visma sport director Grischa Niermann. “Sepp also knows that, and he doesn’t have a problem with that. Primož is our leader, and we want to win the Vuelta. All the other guys are here to help him. Sepp has to stay with Primoż, which he did. And, of course, he could have gone with Carthy, but that wasn’t his job today.”
Jumbo-Visma proved yet again it’s the strongest team in the race, with five yellow jackets pacing Roglič on the final assault up the Angliru. Robert Gesink and George Bennett took pulls, before Danish sensation Jonas Vingegaard took over as the lead group dwindled to less than a dozen survivors.
Mas and then Carthy pulled clear, and though it appeared that Kuss could have jumped, he stayed with Roglič all the way to the line.
Though Roglič ceded the leader’s jersey to Carapaz, the Slovenian is poised to take back 10 seconds and more in Tuesday’s 34km individual time trial in Galicia. The rolling power course that ends with a short but steep climb at Ézaro favors Roglič, and many expect him to take what could be the winning differences all the way to Madrid where the Vuelta ends November 8.
“This was the biggest day for the other guys to attack Primož, but he was able to hold the gap very close, and Sepp was with him in the end,” Niermann said. “We showed we have a very strong team, the best team in the race. In the last kilometer Primoz had to let it go, we lost the jersey by 10 seconds. We are happy with the outcome today, and we look forward to the time trial.”
Kuss’s next and best last chance to win a stage in this Vuelta will come on the penultimate stage with the climbing finale to La Covatilla on Saturday. If Roglič has the red jersey firmly under control, Kuss might have freedom to move.
Either way, duty to the team comes first, and Kuss is the first to demonstrate that in every stage so far in this Vuelta.