When Sepp Kuss went clear with Mark Padun in the final half dozen kilometres of the climb to the Critérium du Dauphiné's stage 7 summit finish at La Plagne, recent history suggested that the American Jumbo-Visma rider would prevail.
Over the last year and more, Kuss has shown again and again that he's one the best climbers in the bunch. Yet, it was the Bahrain Victorious rider Mark Padun who rode clear for the win, as Kuss slipped back to finish sixth on the day.
Yet, while many may have been surprised to see Padun ride away to take the day's honours, Kuss knew that he had a significant rival in the Ukrainian.
"He's actually really strong. I've done a few races with him and he's incredibly, incredibly strong," Kuss said at the finish.
"We were together and it was a good situation, but I could tell that he was really strong. We shared the work well, but after a while he just killed me. There's no shame in that because he was definitely the strongest on the day."
Although Kuss moved leapt up the GC standings to 13th, even leapfrogging his Jumbo teammate Steven Kruijswijk, this was little consolation to him. "I was hoping more for the stage win," he said. "I'm quite a long way back on GC."
Yet he insisted his form is good and that he'll do all he can to get in a winning position again on Sunday's final stage through the Alps to Les Gets.
"Tomorrow I'll try again. I feel good and there's nothing to lose because it's the last day. It's going to be even harder than today I think. It worked out well for me last year, so hopefully I can do a repeat," stated the American, who claimed an impressive solo victory on the last afternoon of the 2020 Dauphiné.
That success came at the end of a madcap stage. It began with Primož Roglič, Jumbo's leader and the race's yellow jersey, failing to start due to crash-related injuries. That put Thibaut Pinot in pole position, but the Frenchman and his team were unable to control the action and, ultimately, Dani Martínez, then riding in EF Education First colours, took the title.
Kuss suspects, though, that things might play out quite differently this on this occasion. "This year the difference might well be Ineos, who are really strong and can control the race," said Kuss.
"On the final stage last year there was no one team that was controlling it because Primož was out, so it was a big fight from the beginning. I think it'll easier for Ineos to control it than it was for anyone last year and that it will definitely be a tactical race."
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