Sepp Kuss: 'Free strategy' for Jumbo-Visma at Critérium du Dauphiné
American climber part of a two-pronged attack for the Dutch team at French stage race
With no Primož Roglič, Wout van Aert or Tom Dumoulin in the Jumbo-Visma line-up at the Critérium du Dauphiné, the Dutch team not only looks quite different to recent editions but also has a significantly different strategy.
While in the past they've often had to control the peloton to set up Van Aert for bunch finishes and Roglič for his GC objectives, it's a different story this week. In Steven Kruijswijk and Sepp Kuss, they have two strong GC contenders, but not an obviously outstanding one. So how will it play out for Jumbo this week?
"It's pretty open. We don't have a real outright leader. We have a pretty free strategy," said Kuss at the stage 2 start in Brioude. "Steve and I feel good, more or less the whole team that's here was at altitude training, and everyone's riding really well. We'll just see how the race plays out."
The American climber believes that the absence of Roglič from the Jumbo line-up eases pressure in one way, but adds it another.
"As a team, we don't have to really control things, we don't have Wout here for example, someone who could do well in a sprint like yesterday, so we can save ourselves a little bit and look forward to the coming days. No one's maybe looking at us as much, so it's maybe a bit more relaxed than other races," he explained, adding, "But at the same time we want to go for good results."
Kuss, renowned for being Roglič's key lieutenant in the mountains at the Grand Tours, harbours his own GC ambitions for the biggest races and was given the chance by Jumbo to enhance them at the Tour de Romandie four weeks ago.
He says he learned a lot from the experience as he finished 14th overall in a race won by Ineos Grenadiers' Geraint Thomas.
"It went well, trying to be up there every day," he said, acknowledging that he has the opportunity to take on a similar role in the Dauphine's final stages, assuming he can come through Wednesday's 16.4km in good shape.
"It looks like a pretty tough time trial. It's definitely not flat. It's one that you have to pace and there's quite a bit of climbing, so for me it's actually an OK time trial, it's not too long. I can limit my losses there. I've been riding the time trial bike so for sure I'll give it my best," he said.
Once beyond the TT, Kuss, winner of the final stage of last year's Dauphiné when he was arguably the strongest climber in the race, should have another chance to enhance his longer-term GC ambitions on terrain that suits him perfectly.
Like many others aiming to peak at the Tour de France, he came into the Dauphiné from an altitude training camp and feeling a little tired.
"You do come in with heavy legs," he said following a tough second stage into Saugues. "It wasn't easy terrain today, but I felt good and that gives me confidence for the bigger tests just ahead."
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).