Sepp Kuss, a lanky 22-year-old from Durango, Colorado, stunned the cycling world earlier this year at the Redlands Classic when he took the stage win atop the infamous Oak Glen climb, ahead of notable mountain men Janier Acevedo and Lachlan Morton. Fast forward four weeks to Tour of the Gila, and Kuss was no longer the unknown rider on the amateur Gateway-Harley Davidson team, he was a marked man. Still, his abilities shone through and he finished fourth on the stage to Mogollon behind Morton. He now sits fourth overall heading into the time trial, and wears the white best young rider's jersey. Cyclingnews spoke to Kuss before the start of stage 2 at Fort Bayard.
Kuss grew up competing in a variety of sports from Nordic skiing, to kayaking, and running before finally settling into cycling in his senior year of high school. Now a student at the University of Colorado Boulder studying advertising, Kuss switched from mountain biking, a discipline in which he won three collegiate titles, but switched to a road focus this season.
"I and was lucky enough to get the support of the MTB national team with Mark Gullickson, he introduced me to some high level racing. That's where I found my feet in cycling. I slowly gravitated to road racing, and here I am."
Tour of the Gila was one of Kuss' first major road races. He raced here with Intermountain Livewell last year with unremarkable results, but altered his programme this year to focus his training on road races rather than short, explosive mountain bike efforts.
"This season training-wise was more road specific, which I think really helped me. I prefer the longer, steeper climbs, those longer efforts. I think that favours me compared to mountain biking," he said.
The training worked, and after placing fifth overall in the San Dimas Stage Race, thanks to a strong uphill time trial, he went on to surprise at Redlands and then confirm that performance in Tour of the Gila.
"I was fortunate enough to sign with Gateway-Harley Davidson. They've put a lot of faith in me coming from very little road racing background. It's been a dream season so far," Kuss said of his success so far.
"I knew I had the engine, I think it was a matter of using it efficiently which is really important in road racing. Mountain bike racing is just 45 minutes flat out. I was fairly good at that, but I think my riding style and my characteristics are more suited to road racing."
Whether he can hold his position as best young rider and perhaps move into a podium position in the GC will hinge on the time trial, a discipline in which he has little experience, especially in a flatter, windy test like the one he faces in Tyrone on Friday.
"I've ridden the TT bike three times before this race. I don't have high expectations - my main goal is to not lose too much time. I know the fitness is there, and we were able to get the TT into a good position where i can put down power. I think I can do a fairly good time trial, just not lose too much time."
Instead, he will look to make his difference in the difficult mountain stage on the final day of the race, known as the Gila Monster.
"I think Sunday will really suit me. I hope to ride an aggressive race, depending on how the GC is looking. The goal is to ride every day consistently, feel good every day, and shoot for a high GC placing."