As Ineos Grenadiers head home from the Volta a Catalunya with a landmark clean sweep of the GC podium, you might have thought the opposition felt intimidated by such a devastating display of racing power so early in the 2021 season.
But according to Jumbo-Visma’s Sepp Kuss, part of one of the strongest - if not the strongest - rival GC teams right now, Ineos Grenadiers collective performance in Catalunya, while obviously impressive, can be linked back to some general trends in cycling as well.
“Their racing so hard is the way every team is now,” said Kuss, who was 12th overall in at the Volta a Catalunya and one of the last riders to remain in contention when Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) made his race-winning breakaway on Vallter 2000.
“Everybody in this race is at a really high level, everything is really advanced in training, and everybody is doing altitude training camps in January and February. So this is just the level it is now, and it’ll probably only go up from here.”
Kuss rejects suggestions, too, that after last year’s prolonged ‘battle of the trains’ between Ineos and Jumbo in stage racing – and which Ineos, by and large, lost – the British team’s turning up at the Volta in such good forms part of some kind of unspoken psychological warfare to try and make a statement early on in the year.
“Obviously they have such a strong roster here, they can do more or less what they want here and still have the top three guys on GC. They can still ride on the front with those guys. But it’s not a competition,” the 26-year-old American reasons “If you have strong riders, then you can ride the race how you want to.”
No matter which name is on the jersey, then, Kuss feels that when a powerful line-up is combined with cycling’s collective hike in performance, crushing performances of the like of the Volta are almost inevitable.
And even before the Volta a Catalunya, with so many of the Ineos riders present likely candidates for July, Ineos Grenadiers were down as one of the most powerful line-ups for the seven-day race. As Xavier Luque, writer for Catalonia’s leading daily La Vanguardia wrote before the start, “the only question is which Ineos rider is going to ride for which.”
While that became very clear during the week of the Volta, as for Kuss himself, he’s gradually building in the direction that he wants to, although with a race-heavy second half of the season, it’s a relatively gentle curve in terms of building his form.
“I’m happy with the week overall, first of all for me I did an ok time trial which is a step in the right direction and then in the first mountain stage”, where he finally placed sixth, “I rode how I thought I could win the stage, but Yates was a lot stronger and I paid for it in the end. “
“But I have no regrets how I raced it, and the next stage,” won by Esteban Chaves (Team Bike Exchange) with a seven-kilometre breakaway, and where Kuss placed fifth, “I definitely waited too long, and it was bit too late to try anything.”
Having erred on the side of caution on one day after burning through his energy levels too quickly the stage before, Kuss might have come away empty handed in one sense. But he still gained enough positives to be upbeat at what he’d managed to do. As he sees it, “it’s good to have the experience of both sides of how to ride the final of a mountain stage, and overall I’m happy where I’m at.”
His next race, in any case, will be the Tour of Romandie, giving him a bit of time off, before a “pretty full on time leading up to the Dauphine, then the Tour and the Vuelta.”
Doing two Grand Tours, as he’s done in 2019 and again in 2020, is a combination that works well for him. Or as he puts it, “I’ll just rest after the Tour and then do good training before the Vuelta, and I should be good.”
By which time, too of course, we’ll know if Ineos Grenadiers performance in the Volta was the foretaste of things to come in 2021 stage racing, or whether their rival teams have come up with performances that match the British team’s showing in Catalonia this March. Stay tuned.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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