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After the team’s bitter loss the previous year to Pogačar, Vingegaard’s stubborn and steady rise that year gave the team new wings.
According to Sepp Kuss, it was during that 2021 Tour — when Vingegaard finished second to Pogačar and even managed to gap him on Mont Ventoux — that everyone started to build the kernels of belief that something special could happen.
Speaking to Flo Bikes, Kuss explained how Vingegaard’s steady rise from largely unknown helper to Tour de France king was slowly built on the seeds planted in 2021.
“Years went by, and Jonas starts developing just incredibly. Already in 2021, he was a helper and ends up second in the Tour. We said, OK, we have another guy who can win the Tour,” Kuss told Flo Bikes.
“It was an incredible feeling to win the Tour,” Kuss said. “This year with both Primož and Jonas, and then with the crash of Primož, Jonas was just super impressive, motivated, and confident. He had an amazing Tour and he won it. It was amazing to be part of that.”
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- Kuss hoping for return ticket to 2023 Tour de France
Kuss has had a front-row seat of all the Tour drama at Jumbo-Visma since his own high-profile Tour debut in 2020.
Since then, the Colorado climber emerged as one of the best climbers in the peloton, winning a stage in the 2021 Tour and helping the team ride to back-to-back podiums before striking yellow jersey gold in July.
“We were really proud of 2020 when we came so close, and the feeling we had each stage as we were getting closer and closer to the end with the yellow jersey,” Kuss said. “It didn’t end the way we wanted. And we were thinking that was our chance, we got so close, and now there’s this phenom that is the best in the world [ed – Pogačar] and we have to find our way to beat him.”
Kuss on Vingegaard: ‘We all believed in his potential’
Pogačar’s sudden rise caught everyone by surprise, and Kuss admitted the team was reeling following Roglič’s late-race collapse in 2020.
Even with second in 2021 with Vingegaard, some observers still didn’t truly rate the Dane’s chances against Pogačar.
Kuss said the team always believed in Vingegaard, and gave him the support he needed in 2022 to win the historic victory that counted for Jumbo-Visma’s first yellow jersey and the first Tour win by a Dane since 1996.
“We all knew he had the potential,” Kuss said of Vingegaard. “He always showed glimpses of amazing things. He just needed to pull it all together. What was good for him was that Primož was and still is a good mentor for him. He learned a lot.”
Kuss said the team’s pivot toward bringing two leaders for the GC to the Tour paid off.
Roglič crashed out of the 2022 Tour, but Vingegaard stepped into the void in dramatic fashion.
“They’re different people but they both embrace the way of working. They’re really focused and very different kinds of leaders,” Kuss said. “They bring the most out of everyone on the team. That’s an important quality to have. When you see their confidence, it brings peace to the rest of the guys on the team.
“With different leaders you have to understand how to read their body language, it’s not like you can always speak to them during the race. Things can change,” Kuss said. “You may have a plan before the race, and things may go into a completely different direction, but you have to put yourself in their shoes, and see what they need or what.”
Kuss, 28, returns to Jumbo-Visma for his sixth season with the Dutch-backed team.
Kuss on the 2023 Tour: ‘It would be cool to be part of that again’
Kuss remains one of the team’s elite climbers and is excited for more of the same in 2023.
“I like racing the Tour and the Vuelta, and that’s been my schedule for the past few years. It would be nice to go back and try to help defend the Tour title,” Kuss said.
The Colorado climber is hoping that means a return to the Tour again in 2023, this time as part of the team of the defending champion.
“The Tour is such a big goal for every team and every rider, so it would be really cool to be part of that again,” Kuss said. “It’s not easy to win a stage at the Tour, but if I can have a victory in any race, in one-day race or a stage race, that’s good for me.”