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The 25-year-old climbing phenomenon was on the pointy end of the action in Saturday’s pivotal climbing stage at Lagunas de Neila, helping Jumbo-Visma teammate and captain George Bennett secure top-5 in Europe’s first major stage race since Paris-Nice.
In fact, Bennett said Kuss, who helped drive the pace in the closing five kilometers of the steep climb, “saved” his top GC placing in the hard-fought Spanish race won by Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick-Step).
“Luckily Sepp was still with me. He definitely saved my top five,” Bennett said. “Fifth is not bad, of course, but after my second place [Thursday], I had hoped for more. I just didn’t have the legs on the final climb.”
On Saturday’s decisive summit finale, Kuss helped pace Bennett up the final kilometers to prove that his climbing legs haven’t abandoned him during the four-month shutdown.
Kuss remained in Spain during the lockdown, and said he was happy to be back in the saddle for his first race since finishing eighth at the Tour de Provence back in February.
“I feel good. It feels a little strange to be back, it also feels pretty normal,” Kuss told VeloNews. “When you’re used to racing, you just fall back into that rhythm. It’s been quite a while since we’ve done anything like this, it feels pretty familiar aside from all the safety measures and things like that.”
Kuss said he felt “safe” with the safety protocols and health measures introduced during the Burgos tour in what was cycling’s first major stage race since March. Last weekend, the WorldTour calendar resumed with Strade Bianche, with similar steps to help assure safe racing conditions for riders.
The WorldTour continues with the Tour de Pologne this week, and Kuss will line up again at the Critérium du Dauphiné later this month.
With the measures he saw rolled out at Burgos, he’s optimistic that racing can continue across Europe despite worries about the coronavirus pandemic.
“It feels really good to get back on the bike again,” Kuss said during Burgos. “I think we have to take it race by race. Everybody is in the same boat. Everyone wants to start strong because even though we have a calendar, nothing is for sure. With these safety measures, it’s a big step. You have to stay optimistic at least.”
The return to racing came at a good time for Kuss, who is penciled in to make his Tour de France debut in August.
Jumbo-Visma will bring a stacked team that includes Primoz Roglic, Steven Kruijswijk and Tom Dumoulin as GC captains, with the likes of Strade Bianche winner Wout Van Aert, Bennett and Robert Gesink as key helpers.
“It’s cool to be on the Tour list,” Kuss said. “I haven’t thought too much about it really, I’m just going through the day-to-day, and we’ll see once we get there. It’s exciting, for sure.”
Kuss, who won a stage in last year’s Vuelta a España en route to helping Roglic take the overall, isn’t letting the hype and pressure of the Tour get to him, at least not yet.
With two Vueltas and one Giro d’Italia under his belt, he’s ready for the next step.
“It’s pretty cool to be in that group that’s going to the Tour,” Kuss said. “I’ll do the Dauphiné and the Tour, so it will be pretty crazy. It’s a good route for me, and it’s a good route for the Tour. It doesn’t feel too strange, because I don’t make it anything more than it needs to be.”