There is a public perception that has formed around Sepp Kuss, a narrative that seems hard to change. He follows a similar thought, accepting his talent as one of the best climbers in the world, but believing he doesn’t want to lead a Grand Tour team. It’s often said in an absurd way, as if someone so strong in the mountains could even deny him the opportunity to try and win a yellow, pink or red jersey.
Is this a correct interpretation? “Ah, I mean,” exclaims the American in his response to weekly cycling. “I would love to but it comes with…you know, I guess I’m pretty honest with myself. Every day I see what it takes to be that guy who fights for a podium or for a win and I look at myself and I know what I’m missing to be in this position.
Which one is? “I think, of course, of the time trial, the requirement to be at your best on a daily basis, all of those things, but also the mental side. You have to be very lively every day, be ready to suffer the bad days and measure yourself on the best days. It’s something you don’t often realize, the mental side of being the guy fighting for the podium.
“Of course for me on the road it’s motivating to try, but at this stage I’m not at the stage where I can say I’m going here for the podium and I need those resources behind me. I still have a lot to work on and in doing so I don’t want to lose what I love about racing at the moment, which is winning stages, riding aggressively and riding without too much pressure. every day, which is also something I love; that’s where I am now and I don’t want to lose that feeling.
It is a frank answer, an answer which, I proposed to him, corresponds to his vision of life where pleasure comes first. “Maybe, yes,” he said. “I’m not the guy who needs to win at all costs. If I lose or fail, that won’t define me as a person, even if I want to win. But I like to focus on the process, enjoying the day-to-day training, and if it’s meant to be, then it happens. For me, it’s pleasure.
The 27-year-old Jumbo-Visma rider has built a bit of a cult following, and not just for his infamous tongue sitting askew in his mouth as he leads the peloton on a seemingly effortless climb. Accessible and cheerful, Kuss started his 2022 racing season by finishing second in a cross-country race in his adopted home of Andorra.
He started as a Nordic skier – his father Dolph was even once the coach of the US national team – but this was his first race in several winter seasons. He bought some skis last winter and decided to go back to his roots, in part to “experience different people…and if I’m going to live in Andorra, I want to be more connected with the people of Andorra. here”.
On his Instagram, Michael Woods of Israel-Premier Tech said Kuss was “so dope” and Cameron Wurf of Ineos Grenadiers joked that “I have the biggest crush on you”.
“I was a little surprised [with the result], but I knew I would be fine,” Kuss said of his visit to the podium. “The few times I’ve skied this year, I’ve felt good technically, and of course the cardio comes through pretty well from all the skiing.
“But it’s a different kind of suffering that’s hard to compare to suffering on a bike. It’s all body, cardio, taste of blood from five minutes. It’s so technically driven and you really have to pay attention to how you move.
“I had a lot of muscle memory from my years doing it, but I noticed a few days before the race how much my upper body ached. It’s something I’ve neglected since I started biking and rock climbing.
Another of Kuss’ first loves was mountain biking, and he can often be seen on the trails of the Catalan Pyrenees. “It was my first outlet for the adventure you can have in cycling,” he smiles. “And I never lost that first adventurous side of cycling. I love road biking, but for me mountain biking is a way to disconnect, to explore, and I love that.
He mentions that Milan Vader, a 26-year-old road rookie who signed Jumbo-Visma this winter, will participate in a shared road and mountain bike schedule. Is that something Kuss would be open to? “I would think about it. It would be something really fun to do, it’s just a matter of integration,” he says.
“I haven’t spoken specifically about the race with the team, but I’m sure it could be on the cards. But if I do the Tour they will want to limit the risk of injury from a mountain bike race. Well sure it could work, but it depends where in the season.
Kuss was a two-time collegiate national cross-country champion and competed in World Cup events in the discipline in 2014 and 2015, but confessed that while they’re “nice because it’s the highest level, it wasn’t as much fun for me”. If he went back to wobbly, wider tires, it would be in marathon distance races. “What I like is the longer, more tactical races, not as explosive as the World Cup events,” he explains.
Back on the road, Kuss is soon heading into another season working mainly to support Primož Roglič but also looking for his own opportunities. A “home” victory on stage 15 of the Tour de France in Andorra last year motivated him.
“Once you win and you know that feeling, you want more,” he says. “You expect more from yourself.” But, he returns to the same theme: winning should never be the ultimate destination.
“I want to keep the trajectory, but I try not to let it go to my head too much,” he said. “I don’t want to feel too much pressure or have an over-need to win or do something. . I think if you do better it almost makes it harder because you have a bit more weight on your shoulders .
“Am I doing it well, or did I do it like this last season, but now I can do it even better?” Is this always the best thing to do? I measure everything and I have confidence in myself.
So the story is not so wrong. Kuss is ambitious, but he’s under no pressure to change his outlook on life.