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Barring disaster, the 29-year-old will become only the second American rider to win the Vuelta, and will join the elite club of U.S. grand tour winners.
“I’m super relieved,” Kuss said after crossing the finish line arm-in-arm with his teammates Saturday. “It was a super special moment. To be able to relax that much in the last K of a mountain stage with your two teammates is just really cool. It hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Is Kuss going big time?
Following the dramatic in-fighting at Jumbo-Visma coupled with Kuss’s humble and friendly manner, major U.S. media picked up on the story over the past few weeks.
Typically, only the Tour de France moves the needle in U.S. mainstream media, but Kuss’s unique backstory and feel-good narrative is picking up traction.
Outlets such as Forbes, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, and others have chronicled Kuss’s exploits over the last month.
“It’s really nice,” Kuss told FloBikes of the U.S. attention. “It’s not the Tour de France that most people know about, but it is a grand tour, and one of the most competitive grand tours of the year.
“It’s nice to see the reaction from the U.S., and especially in my hometown in Durango, Colorado,” he said.
Back in Colorado, friends and family have been gathering at a local bike shop every morning to watch the stages and cheer Kuss, a new Vuelta ritual that was reported on by Outside’s Fred Dreier.
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In Spain, Kuss was joined by his mother, who traveled from Durango, Colorado, but his 93-year-old father — Nordic skiing legend Dolph Kuss — was unable to make the long trip.
“He’s still in really good shape,” he told FloBikes. “The flight just to come over for a big celebration is a lot for him. I know that he’s watching every single kilometer of every single stage.”
There is a lot of speculation if Kuss will continue to develop as a GC leader, or revert to his more familiar and comfortable role as a super domestique to Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard.
Kuss, who was congratulated by his teammates at the line after Saturday’s last hard stage, said, “Once is enough!”
There’s some hint Kuss could see leadership at the 2024 Giro d’Italia, with Roglič and Vingegaard both returning to the Tour de France.
Team boss Richard Plugge, who was celebrating the team’s grand tour sweep in 2023, said the team will finalize plans for next season during a series of fall team meetings.
“We’ll let you know in December,” Plugge said.
Kuss is already a star in Spain
Where Kuss’s profile is sky-rocketing is in Spain.
Kuss, whose partner is Catalan, lives in Andorra and speaks near-fluent Spanish, much to the delight of fans, TV commentators, and journalists.
Kuss slips back and forth between Spanish and English in press conferences and in the media mixed zone.
Spanish fans cheer for him on the road as if he’s one of their own.
“The warmth from the fans really helps me to overcome a lot of things and helps me give me my maximum across these grand tours this year,” Kuss said. “I could hear my name being cheered every day in every stage, and that really meant a lot.
“Every stage I feel more Spanish with all the support from the fans.”
Kuss said he needs time to soak in the experiences of the past three weeks, and to realize what he’s achieved.
Kuss becomes just the fourth U.S. male rider to win a grand tour, joining Greg LeMond, Andy Hampsten, and Chris Horner in the record books as official winners of cycling’s three-week stage races.
The Coloradan vowed that the success will not change him as a person.
“I will remain humble. There are different ways of being a champion, but I will remain humble,” Kuss said. “I know what it’s like to be a fan, to be a cyclist, and to be a racer, and fans are the heart of cycling, and I like to be close to the public.”
Euh, @lavuelta.. your race leader is a bit later at today’s start. 😉
Muchas gracias, fans! ❤️🏼 pic.twitter.com/JwQV0ylCEg
— Team Jumbo-Visma cycling (@JumboVismaRoad) September 15, 2023