It’s hard to imagine having a better year in professional road cycling than American Sepp Kuss had in 2023. Not only did he guide fellow teammates Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard to Giro and Tour wins respectively, he capped the season off by winning the Vuelta. Directly after his win in Spain, the rumor mill began to swirl of a potential Soudal-Visma merger, Roglic’s eventual departure from the team and the sponsorship-hunt chaos of Team Jumbo-Visma.
Now that the dust has settled, and the team's future is clear, we decided to catch up with the peloton’s favorite rider and get an update on what’s been happening since he finished the season in red.
What are your thoughts on Primoz leaving the team?
Primoz brought our team to where it is now. He pushed everyone in the team to be their best and showed us that just doing well-enough wasn't sufficient. I learned a lot from him, not necessarily from him teaching me things, but how he developed as a rider and what he learned. If your leader makes a mistake and you see him correct that mistake in a later race, you also learn from that. Seeing how he is as a racer, now, versus when he first started is really valuable and I would give him most of the credit from the rider's side in terms of bringing the team to where it is now. But yeah, I think it's better for everybody that he is on a different team. Now he can go to a team and feel that support that he feels that he deserves and has everyone behind him.
Will things change for you now that Primoz is left the team?
Well, you have to just focus on yourself, for better or for worse. I think there were lots of positions I put myself in during the Vuelta where I was still in the mindset of a teammate or a guy that didn't have that killer instinct. It still worked for me and I was proud of how I did it, and how I handled it, but I also realized that a lot of the winners have a different mentality than mine and I have to find that balance without losing who I am as a person.
From the outside, it seemed like Vingegaard was a real ally for you during the Vuelta. Did it feel like this for you as well?
Jonas is more of a verbal leader, so it's more his nature, but he really coached me in certain situations. From his experience, winning two Tours in a row, you have to be sharp every day. He really helped me stay on top of things when I am normally checked out every day.
You are gaining another American on the team with Matteo Jorgenson. Are you looking forward to that?
I don't know Matteo so well because I was never in the US development program during the same years as him, but we always chat during the race and he is a really good guy. I think he fits the team well. He is a rider who appreciates the process of getting better, regardless of the results, and I think he is going to be a really strong rider for us. And for me, for sure, he's going to be a good companion. He is also in a similar situation where he was on Movistar, a team with definitely not an American culture, so we come from similar understanding of our teams.
Do you already have a general plan of how you and the team will attack the Grand Tours next year?
Even last year the original plan was to do the Tour and the Vuelta. It is always a combination that works well for me also because I am happy to be in more of a helper role in the Tour because typically, depending on the route, it is not ideal for me. Last year was a bit of an exception. It was a good route for me and just by virtue of doing my job I was with the best guys in the GC for a while without even thinking about it. So we will see what the route is like with the Tour. Maybe it's something I can go for, but I think the Vuelta is more suited for me.
Do you think you have a serious shot at going head to head with riders like Vingegaard, Roglic, and other stars like Tadej Pogačar and Remco Evenepoel at the Tour?
Why not? I think I can stay more concentrated in the race if I’m thinking, ‘Ok, Sepp, don't just let off so easy'. In the Vuelta, I was thinking during the first few stages that I would lose as much time as I could to save every ounce of energy, but then I felt good and didn't want to lose time just for the sake of losing time. Being in the GC role, or shadow GC role, just keeps me mentally sharp. Of course, I want to win or do my best and being in that shadow leader role is a good middle ground for me.