Fresh from his victory in the Tour of Utah, Colorado's Sepp Kuss has continued to impress in the Vuelta a España's first major ascent to Alfacar on stage 4, where the 23-year-old turned in a stunning climbing performance.
Then on stage 5, Kuss was back in the battle again.
On stage 4, Kuss could be seen working alongside his LottoNL-Jumbo teammates shredding the field on the middle section of the 12-kilometre climb, before peeling off to finish around 35 seconds behind the main group of favourites.
"It felt good, just to be in this race is a huge opportunity, but I've been able to play a big role, pretty exciting, " Kuss told a small group of reporters before stage 5.
"I didn't feel so good in the first few stages, but I kind of expected that. I didn't come down from altitude until a few days before the race, so I knew my body would be adjusting, particularly with [shifting to] sea-level power and with the heat."
"But I'm here to help the guys in the second and third weeks, but to be good in the fourth stage was pretty encouraging."
As for the ascent to Alfacar itself, Kuss said, "It wasn't totally in the plan to go full out, we wanted to be in good position going into the town [half-way up] and then we still felt good. Floris [De Tier-teammate] was riding exceptionally, so he led into the town on the first few switchbacks, and after he did his pull, I kept it going and still felt pretty good myself."
Kuss has been training at altitude at home in Colorado after the Dauphine and then did the Tour of Utah, where he says the intense heat and long climbs are ideal for his Vuelta debut.
Prior to the Vuelta and thanks to his blistering climbing performances in Utah, the former mountain biker and Rally Cycling rider had even been tipped by prestigious Spanish daily El País as a dark horse favourite for the GC in the Vuelta a España.
Kuss says that the GC is not on his agenda this year, and having lost ten minutes on stage 2, his stand-out climbing ability was certainly helping to shape that particular struggle amongst the favourites on stage 4.
"Personally I feel a lot better riding now than I did before, in earlier races I was in survival mode. But I've lost a lot of weight, changed my training a little, so the second half of the season has been really good."
"When you feel good and more in control, compared to when you're struggling even to be in the gruppetto, the racing is like night and day.
"A lot of it is just a matter of confidence, and the team has a lot of confidence, and selecting me for this race or having it in the cards for me has given me a lot of motivation. It's shown I can be a really dependable rider for the team."
Kuss not only impressed on stage 4 but he subsequently made it into the 25 rider breakaway on stage 5 along with teammate Floris de Tier. 17th at the finish, the American blamed his lack of experience for failing to impact more in the day-long move, but even to be there on two straight stages after so much hard work the day before was no mean achievement.
"It was a pretty hard start and initially I thought I would make it an easy day and try and recover," Kuss told Cyclngnews as he downed a drink in the intense heat at the finish. "But when the break still hadn't gone on one of the first major climbs in the day, I was kind of marking moves and ended up there.
"When I got in [the break] I thought 'oh man,' but then you have to at least try. I had moments when I felt good, moments when I felt not so good and Floris is really good at those kinds of strategies.
"Me, I've never really been in a breakaway like that so it was maybe a bit new for me to manage that situation, but it was a good learning experience and that's what this Vuelta is all about."
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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