It looked like the day when the empire was about to strike back. After being outclassed by Jumbo-Visma at the Tour de l’Ain last weekend and seeing the Dutch team’s Milan-San Remo champion Wout van Aert win the opening stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné, Team Ineos had the edge in terms of numbers and control on their rivals to the summit finish at the Col de Porte. In the end, the result was the same, Jumbo-Visma reasserted themselves at the critical moment to set up team leader Primož Roglič for his fourth win in a week.
The Slovene thanked his whole team for helping to catalyse his latest success, but there’s no doubt that the key rider for him was Sepp Kuss. The 25-year-old American was Jumbo’s last man with Roglič on the final summit of Col de Porte on Thursday, and showed a cool head and impressive strength to rebuff the late attack by Ineos’ Egan Bernal, and then provide a launch-pad for Roglič’s winning counter-attack.
“Yeah, it was a good day,” Kuss said at the finish, where he was 11th on the stage. “I was happy that it was raining. The last few days I’ve been dying in the heat so when I saw the rain I thought it could be a good day.”
While he recognised that Ineos had been strong on the final ascent, Kuss pointed out that a mechanical issue had stymied Jumbo’s own plans to a large extent. “Tom [Dumoulin] had to do a bike change right at the bottom of the last climb, and Robert [Gesink] had to go back with him, so that already took out two of us, which was a shame,” he explained. “But I think the stage was pretty straightforward. It just came down to the last climb more or less.”
The young American from Colorado is set to make his Tour de France debut later this month and his performance as Roglič’s sole protector in the closing kilometres underlined why.
“It was controlled but when it got a bit less steep towards the top I knew they would probably try and accelerate and they did, but luckily I still felt OK and could keep with them,” Kuss said.
When Bernal attacked with a couple of kilometres remaining, Kuss immediately took up the pursuit of the Colombian, quickly closing down the gap. “I think we were already going at a decent speed so it’s a bit easier to close it when it’s already at the limit I guess,” he said modestly. “I just kept going at a bit higher tempo because I knew Primoz could finish it off in the last kilometre. He told me to go all out till then and he did finish it off.”
Jumbo’s Critérium du Dauphiné line-up is a little different to the one that performed so well in the Tour de l’Ain, but it’s already proving equally effective and cohesive, which was the key objective coming into the race. “Gaining confidence and working together as a team before the Tour is really good, getting a little practice in so that we’re ready,” said Kuss.