Cracks or controversy? Sepp Kuss surrenders time to Jonas Vingegaard but defends lead: ‘I don’t want to win as a gift’

American climber cedes time to Jumbo-Visma teammate but downplays tension inside team bus: 'The strongest will win.'

Photo: MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images

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LA HERMIDA, Spain (Velo) — Sepp Kuss saw his Vuelta a España lead come under friendly fire Tuesday after Jumbo-Visma teammate Jonas Vingegaard attacked to win an emotional stage victory.

Is there discontent inside the Jumbo-Visma bus? Or is the team simply racing to win this Vuelta?

Kuss said the team’s tactic Tuesday was to win the stage, and insists that Jumbo-Visma’s triumvirate is not showing signs of discord as the Spanish grand tour grinds into the decisive final week.

“Overall the most important thing is that we don’t chase each other down, and we do things in a cohesive way, like we did today, and on the stage we did on the Tourmalet,” Kuss said Tuesday.

“We cannot see it as a competition as between the three of us,” Kuss said. “We still have to beat our rivals.”

Also read:

Jumbo-Visma remains 1-2-3 atop the leaderboard, but the chances for Kuss to win this Vuelta are not as promising as they were 24 hours ago.

The American flyer saw his lead shrink from 1:37 to 29 seconds, with Vingegaard and Primož Roglič swapping spots on the GC.

The most important thing for Kuss on Tuesday was to defend the leader’s jersey. It’s always better to defend a lead than chase it.

With the Angliru up next, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Kuss: ‘I hope to still be in the leader’s jersey’

Sepp Kuss
Kuss said the explosive finale didn’t suit his style of climbing. (Photo: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

With the team rattled by news Tuesday morning that teammate Nathan van Hooydonck was seriously injured in a car crash in Belgium, Jumbo-Visma was determined to win Tuesday’s 16th stage in his honor.

Though news eventually filtered through that he was out of imminent danger, the fate of their teammate was on everyone’s mind Tuesday for the first of three stages across the Cantabrian mountains of northern Spain.

Also read: Nathan Van Hooydonck stable after car crash

The emotion of the stage added another layer of intrigue to the ever tightening internal pressure at Jumbo-Visma.

Riders like Robert Gesink and Dylan van Baarle worked to reel in a breakaway, and the two-time Tour de France champion Vingegaard jumped early on the short but steep final climb to Bejes.

With his teammate up the road, Kuss sat back, but Vingegaard was narrowing in on overtaking the lead when he ran out of asphalt.

The Dane bounced into second, now 29 seconds behind Kuss, with Roglič slipping into third, at 1:33 back.

Kuss was philosophical — and still smiling — about carrying the red leader’s jersey into Wednesday’s decisive stage at Angliru.

“I don’t want to win this Vuelta as a gift, that is not sport,” Kuss said Tuesday. “They know what I’ve done for them, but they’re also winners.

“Tomorrow I will try to do the stage as well as I can,” Kuss said of the fearsome Angliru. “It’s a climb that I like a lot, and I hope to still be in the leader’s jersey.”

Also read: Will Vingegaard, Roglič attack Kuss? Geraint Thomas won’t be surprised if they do

Vingegaard confirmed that he, Roglič, and Kuss all have freedom to race to win.

That opens up a potential conflict behind the scenes and on the road as the three race to try to win the Vuelta.

Roglič already won three editions of the Vuelta, but still looks to have more to give. Vingegaard is back for his second Vuelta start after winning two straight yellow jerseys, and blasted to victory Tuesday for his second stage.

Kuss seemed to struggle in the closing kilometers to Bejes, and was relieved to still be in red.

“On this kind of finish, it’s quite hard for me with how explosive it is,” Kuss said. “Jonas attacked at a really good moment. We didn’t have a lot of guys left to ride at the moment because we were pulling the whole stage.

“It was better to attack and put the others on the back foot,” Kuss said.

Up next: ‘The Angliru is an honest climb’

Sepp Kuss
Jumbo-Visma controlled the stage to set up the win. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Wednesday’s brutal stage ending atop the legendary Angliru will reveal who is the strongest in this Vuelta.

“Tomorrow’s stage is less tactical, and it comes down to who has the legs,” Kuss said. “I will race to defend the lead.

“Already from the beginning when it was just Jonas and Primoz, they had freedom to win, and when I came into the picture, that made it a bit more complicated,” Kuss said.

Also read: Jumbo-Visma zeroes in on grand tour sweep, but is there discord inside the ranks?

Vingegaard insisted he was racing Tuesday to win in honor of Van Hooydonck, whom he called his best friend on the team, and was not directly attacking Kuss.

“The team has given the three of the OK to go for it,” Vingegaard said. “So today we wanted to win the stage, and the three of us to have a chance to go for it.

“The Angliru is a very honest climb,” Vingegaard said. “I know it’s super, super steep, and you cannot draft a lot. Tomorrow will be a decisive stage, but also the next four days will be very decisive.”

Now that it’s obvious that Jumbo-Visma teammates Vingegaard and Roglič have freedom to attack, the Angliru will prove even more pivotal in this Vuelta’s final outcome.

“In the third week, the strongest will win,” Kuss said. “That’s fair. We all know where each of us are. There is a good feeling.”

May the strongest rider win.

The Angliru could soon determine if that rider is Kuss.

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