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When Kuss went solo from seven kilometers out to win atop Puerto del Acebo on stage 15 of the Vuelta a Espana, he put himself into the world’s spotlight.
Exactly one week after Kuss’s stage win, his teammate Primoz Roglic secured the overall at the Spanish grand tour, cementing his Jumbo-Visma team as the new super-power in the WorldTour.
“When the team succeeds, gets stronger, or you have some personal success, I think it just increases the overall motivation of the team and the individual,” Kuss told VeloNews. “As a team, we use that motivation to make everyone better because we know [from 2019] what’s possible.”
With all eyes on Jumbo-Visma for 2020, Coloradan Kuss doesn’t feel pressure, only motivation. The 25-year-old Kuss has been confirmed on the long list for the Tour de France to make his debut appearance at the race. He will be supporting a powerful leadership trio of Roglic, Tom Dumoulin and Stephen Kruijswijk that poses a serious threat to Team Ineos’s stranglehold on the Tour.
And just as the world expects a lot from his team, Kuss’s stage win in August means he will no longer be an unknown entity as he performs a key support role in the mountains at the Tour. The young climber had long been on the radar in the U.S after winning three stages and the overall of the 2018 Tour of Utah, but was yet to become a household name around the world. That all changed as he soloed to victory in Spain.
“I think the excitement others felt about [my stage win at the Vuelta] adds a bit of external pressure, people maybe have expectations now of what they think I can do,” he said. “That’s nice to have because it’s motivating. Winning at Utah is one thing, but a winning on a world stage like the Vuelta is another”
Kuss will be centering his season on a build to the Tour de France, with an early-season schedule set to include Tour of Catalunya, Tour of Romandie and the Criterium du Dauphine. After the Tour, a return to the Vuelta a Espana beckons.
Kuss has typically been slow to get up to speed at the start of a season before hitting his stride later in the year. The Coloradan openly admits that the first half of 2019 was a disappointment as he failed to get in his groove until June’s Criterium du Dauphine. Those opening months of the year included a late call-up to ride his debut Giro d’Italia to replace the injured Robert Gesink.
“I came out of winter and thought I was in good shape, but in the first part of the season I was just pretty worthless,” he said. “Leading into the Giro I was training as normal, and at the Giro I just wasn’t at the level I’d have wanted or the team would have wanted.”
With Kuss struggling for form and Jumbo-Visma losing key climber Laurens de Plus after an early abandon, Roglic was left isolated in several mountain stages as he slid from the top of the GC in the final week of the Italian race. The team won’t want to be left in a similar situation in the cutthroat racing of the Tour – but Kuss is confident he’s learned from past mistakes.
“We just figured out from last year that I needed a bit more training load to get the best out of me. More volume, more hours, it takes me a while to get to race speed, especially if I’ve been at home at altitude,” said Kuss. “I’m confident we’ve got it sorted this year.”
At the end of 2019, young American Neilson Powless transferred from Jumbo-Visma to EF Education First. Like Kuss, he had played a key role in the team’s dominant season, putting in long hours on the front of the peloton controlling the race at the Vuelta. Powless left the Duch outfit having to struggled to adapt to their training and nutrition methods.
“It’s definitely a different type of training to what I’m used to, it’s way different to a lot of the training you see with US riders,” said Kuss. “It took me a while to get on board with it, but now I’m used to it I find it really sustainable way of training.”
And just as it took Kuss some acclimatization to Jumbo-Visma’s training systems, it’s taken a while to find how to make it best work for him. Despite the pressure that will be on Kuss to be on top form for summer, his typically slow build in form doesn’t concern him.
“Every season I’ve gotten more confidence with my training and diet, so now I’m pretty relaxed with how to approach my preparation,” he said. “So far I’m feeling good. The plan is a slow build into the second half of the season, with a few objectives in Spring.”
Jumbo-Visma was arguably the team of the year in 2019. There’s a sense that the glare of the media spotlight doesn’t faze laid-back Kuss.
“Being part of that season-long success keeps you really motivated and keeps a winning atmosphere in the team,” he said. “I learned a lot from 2019, and am excited to show it this year. We’re in a good place as a team. I’m excited for it.”