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They crossed the finish line Saturday arm-in-arm to celebrate a Vuelta a España that Jumbo Visma dominated from start to finish.
Four days ago the Jumbo-Visma trio of Primož Roglič, Jonas Vingegaard and Sepp Kuss finished first, second and third, respectively, on the Angliru stage of the Vuelta a España, and were engulfed in a swirl of controversy.
Flash forward to Saturday, the trio rode with a unified goal on the final mountain stage of the race, controlling their rivals and consolidating the lead.
Then, once the GC podium places were secure, they dropped off the rear of the group they were in, a complete reversal of what happened on the Angliru.
They spread across the road, reached across to clasp arms and coasted home, Kuss the center piece in a moment of visual symmetry as they celebrated his Vuelta win plus an unprecedented one-two-three in a grand tour.
The smiles were genuine, the kinship unquestioned. Each looked happy with the outcome, the personal ambitions of Roglič and Vingegaard replaced by the gratitude they have for Kuss, and their appreciation of the bigger picture.
Having been part of their combined six grand tour successes, it was time to pay him back.
Once past the finish line the celebrations continued. Kuss embraced first Vingegaard, then Roglič, sincerely thanking them for their work and, in turn, receiving their congratulations.
Things had turned out just fine in the end.
“I am just super, super happy,” Roglič said at the finish. “The guys around me for sure know Sepp. He is nice.”
He later added to that in the post-race press conference.
“The best won one, I think,” Roglič said.
Vingegaard echoed the congratulations at the finish line, speaking in glowing terms about his teammate.
“As I said before, he is a super great guy and I really am super, super happy that he is winning here,” he smiled.
“I said it many times but he really deserves it and I am so glad for him. It’s just special to ride there hand in hand with him and Primož. And then with we all three on the podium, it is even more special.”
‘What they had to sacrifice is not easy’
Team boss Richard Plugge looked content at the finish, and it wasn’t a surprise. It’s almost 60 years since the Kas team took first, second and third overall in the Vuelta; more importantly, Jumbo-Visma is poised to become the first team to win all three grand tours in the same season.
“I am super proud and happy. You saw the picture [the images of the three riders rolling to the finish with arms joined] … it is unbelievable, and I am so happy.”
The outcome of the stage, and indeed the race itself, was the perfect antidote to the negativity of a few days ago. Things had worked out well, and neither Plugge nor Vingegaard wanted to track back over the issues.
“It is not everything that the press wrote,” the latter said in the press conferences. “Not that there was any problems, but I think we just … that is something we discussed inside the team. I think it should be left there.”
As detailed by Velo’s Andrew Hood, the path to full team backing for Kuss was forged the evening of the Angliru stage, with a frank back and forth amongst the squad leading to an entente cordiale between the three leaders.
That restored relations, thawed any chills, and saw the celebrations on Saturday as — baring accident or any other misfortune on Sunday — Kuss sealed the first American Grand Tour win in a decade.
“I realize what they have done for me,” Kuss said in the post-race press conference. “Also what they have had to sacrifice sporting-wise to help me is not easy, because they are two of the best cyclists in the world.
“It is not so easy when you are used to winning the biggest races in the world. I am very grateful for all that they have done for me.”
Barring any misfortune, Kuss will roll across the finish line in Madrid on Sunday as the winner of the 78th Vuelta a España. It’s the first male U.S. grand tour win since Chris Horner’s success 10 years ago, and is something that will change his life.
Kuss said he is determined to remain the same down to earth person as before, but nothing will ever be quite the same as before.
“It’s definitely career-changing to win a grand tour,” Vingegaard said, thinking back to how life transformed after he won his first tour. “I’m obviously super happy for Sepp and he deserves it so much. I am really happy for him. He is such a great guy and he deserves it.”
Kuss is 29 years of age and it’s reasonable to believe that he can make further improvements physically and psychologically. His team has said it saw changes in him during the Vuelta, with the dedicated team worker evolving into someone who embraced the opportunity the red jersey brought and made clear this week he wanted his chance.
He’s still the considerate person he was but when the dust settles of this race, he will reflect on what he has achieved and what he may yet go on to do.
Vingegaard said that he will get opportunities if he seeks them.
“Obviously if he wants to, he will get the chances in the future, for sure,” he said. “I hope for Sepp he will want to, because he is so good that he deserves all the chances.
“Obviously then I will lose a super great helper in the mountains but Sepp deserves all the chances he will get.”