Americans Sepp Kuss and Neilson Powless have fared well in their previous attempts at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah with Continental teams, and now they've returned with WorldTour squad LottoNL-Jumbo to try to leave their mark once more on the race that starts Monday in St. George.
In his debut at the race last year with Rally Cycling, Kuss finished second on stage 2 to Snow Basin and wore the leader's jersey for a day before teammate Rob Britton took it in the stage 3 time trial. Kuss was forced into the role of loyal teammate from there, eventually finishing the race ninth overall as Britton went on to win.
Powless has competed in the race twice, finishing 33rd overall in 2016 when he was 19 and claiming fourth last year on the back of four top-10 stage finishes. This year the duo is hoping to combine forces with their new shared teammates to make an even bigger impact on the race. Nevertheless, Powless told Cyclingnews that it will be up to other teams to start the shaking-out process.
"The onus is definitely not on us, just because we've brought a pretty young team here, but I think the guys we've brought are really strong guys," Powless said. "We're all pretty eager, and we have a very experienced road captain in Maarten Wynants, so we'll just play off the other teams, race aggressively and have some fun. Hopefully we can come out with some results at the end of the week."
Aside from the 36-year-old Wynants, LottoNL-Jumbo's riders in Utah range in age from 21 to 25. Like Powless said, they're young and eager, and both Kuss and Powless have been preparing at altitude. Kuss raced last at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June, while Powless went from the French race to the US championships 11 days later. Both have been preparing for Utah since then.
"I had a good couple of months training back home, and I'm pretty excited for the race," Kuss said. "I've been in Boulder for a few months now, riding my mountain bike a lot and just having fun."
The fun is over now, however, as Kuss expects a difficult race.
"It looks like it's going to be a pretty tough route this year, with a lot of really good competition," Kuss said.
Powelss agreed with his teammate about the difficulty of this year's route and the field they'll be competing against.
"It seems to be quite a bit more climbing this year than last year, and I think that the field is quite a bit more stacked. But at the same time, I don't think anybody knows where anybody is, form-wise, so it's going to be pretty interesting to see," Powless said.
"You'll know it right away, especially on Mount Nebo [on stage 2]," he added. "I think there will be some very strong guys getting dropped early, and then there will be some guys that you wouldn't really have expected, but that's just how it goes at this time of year."
Wynants said his two American teammates are highly motivated for the race, and he expects them to excel in the mountains, but he agreed with Powless that there's not a lot of pressure on the team.
"We don't have any real pressure," Wynants said. "We'll see after the prologue and the first mountain stage. It's not that we don't have a plan for the leader before the race, but it's about seeing who's the best in the race, and then we'll sort things out from there and work for that guy."
Kuss echoed Wynants in saying that the leadership question will be determined during the race.
"There's a lot of climbing, so I think it will sort itself out," he said. "The more strong guys we have, the better, and we've got a really good climbing team here with a lot of guys who have been at altitude for a while."
As for the team's main rivals, Wynants said it was hard to judge before the racing starts.
"It's really hard to say. I think Jack Haig [Mitchelton-Scott] and a couple of the American guys should be good, of course," Wynants said. "Depending on how Tejay Van Garderen [BMC Racing] comes out of the Tour, he's going to be good or bad. It's hard to say. Look for the WorldTour guys, and then a couple of surprises from guys we don't know."
The race starts on Monday morning with a 5.3km time trial in St. George. The course is short and not especially difficult, but temperatures are forecast for 107 degrees Fahrenheit [42 Celsius].
"It'll be nice to get a little bit of separation and see where everybody is at, I guess," Powless said. "I hear it's going to be hot, but at least we're only going to be out there for about 10 minutes, so it probably doesn't matter. You probably don't even need to really warm up. Just walk outside and be warm.
"I'm pretty excited for it. You probably won't really feel it until you cross the line, and then you won't be able to breathe for a few days."
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake before studying English and journalism at the University of Oregon. He has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon.
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