Remco Evenepoel downplays Vuelta a España chances for Sepp Kuss: ‘I consider him as an outsider’

Tour-Giro winner Egan Bernal says rivals are making a mistake if they overlook the Colorado climber: 'Kuss has the level to fight for the overall, that's obvious.'

Photo: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

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LEON, Spain (Velo) — Rivals are taking a wait-and-see attitude on Sepp Kuss and his chances to win the 2023 Vuelta a España.

Kuss will start Tuesday’s decisive individual time trial with a sizable lead on the top Vuelta favorites, but many expect the Colorado climber’s advantage to all but evaporate on the 25.8km race against the clock.

Defending champion Remco Evenepoel said Kuss remains in his eyes “an outsider” to win the Vuelta when it ends September 17 in Madrid.

“He is a considered as one of the best climbers in the world, and with the weeks that are coming, if he can do a good TT tomorrow, he will be a difficult and an important client,” Evenepoel said in a Monday press conference.

“We already sawing him losing time or getting into some troubles in the last two mountain stages,”Evenepoel said. “So personally, I consider him more as an outsider, especially from the Jumbo-Visma team.”

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The 29-year-old Kuss enters Tuesday’s time trial as perhaps the biggest wild card among the top overall favorites as the Vuelta hits the halfway mark.

Evenepoel starts as the world time trial champion, and riders like teammates Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglič are both superb against the clock.

Others, including UAE Team Emirates’ Juan Ayuso and João Almeida, also have proven they can time trial very well. Marc Soler, also on UAE Team Emirates, lurks in second at 43 seconds back, and is also a threat for the red jersey.

Kuss is expected to lose time to all of them, but the big question is how much?

“The rivals now have to drop Sepp as well, so that’s something we can profit from,” Jumbo-Visma sport director Marc Reef said. “It depends on the circumstances of the race. Sepp can remain a threat on GC.

“We also still need to do the TT, and when you look to the last TT’s, maybe Sepp will lose everything to Remco, but he will still be there,” Reef said. “We will have three guys to pay attention to, and Remco is by himself.”

Even if he does lose time, Kuss will remain high on GC, and he will present a tricky situation for all of Jumbo-Visma’s direct rivals.

Evenepoel admitted as much that Jumbo-Visma with three riders at the top of the GC standings is an even more complicated rival that it already is.

“I think they will still go for Jonas and Primož,” Evenepoel said. “Of course, it’s not easy to ride against three strong climbers and grand tour racers.

“For me it’s not an easy task to always come up with different plans to try to beat them. Especially if they work well together, like they are doing now,” Evenepoel said. “We have to deal with it, and try to manage the situation in a good way.”

Egan Bernal: ‘Kuss has the level to fight for the overall’

Egan Bernal Geraint Thomas
Egan Bernal, shown here with teammate Geraint Thomas, says Kuss has the potential to win the Vuelta. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Egan Bernal, also speaking Monday in a media call, said rivals will be making a mistake if they overlook Kuss.

“He’s a very strong rider, that’s obvious, and he’s perhaps the best climber in the peloton right now,” Bernal said of Kuss. “We are used to seeing him in this role as a ‘gregario,’ as the last man in the mountains, but it’s obvious he has possibilities to fight for the win in a grand tour.”

Also read: Here’s everything Sepp Kuss did in his first day in red

Bernal, a former winner at the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia, said everyone in the peloton knows how good Kuss is in the high mountains.

Tuesday’s time trial will set the tone as the Vuelta pedals toward the Pyrénées and the clash on the Col du Tourmalet.

“If he wins it or not, it’s hard to say. We still have a lot of racing ahead of us,” Bernal said. “We all know how the race can see a thousands changes in just one day. One bad day, and you can lose everything.

“Kuss has the level to fight for the overall, that’s obvious,” Bernal said.


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