Sepp Kuss left little doubt who is the strongest climber at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah during Saturday's queen stage to Snowbird, dropping a select GC group on the lower slopes of the Little Cottonwood Canyon climb to the ski resort and soloing to his second stage win of the 2018 race.
The LottoNL-Jumbo neo pro also extended his advantage in the general classification to 1:21 over Ben Hermans (Israel Cycling Academy) and 2:05 over Joe Dombrowski (EF Education First-Drapac).
"For me, it's nice and a bit of a relief to repay the team with some results," Kuss said in the post-stage press conference. "In the spring I was really not riding well - at all. I was always doing my best, and I think the team saw that. At every race I was getting better, adjusting to a new team and life in Europe. So to come back here and repay that confidence that they've always had in me, even when I was not riding so well, is really nice."
Kuss, who took the race lead with a successful solo attack on stage 3 over Mount Nebo, came into the stage with a 19-second lead over teammate Neilson Powless and 25 seconds on BMC Racing's Tejay van Garderen. EF Education First-Drapac's Dombrowski, Michael Woods and Hugh Carthy lurked just behind in fourth, sixth and eighth, and they went hard into the bottom of the final climb.
"EF set a pretty hard tempo at the bottom, but in the end it was maybe better for us, because that's probably what I was going to have the guys do anyway," Kuss said. "Then when the guys started attacking - which I expected - I was expecting them to maybe put in a bit longer attacks or more attacks."
Kuss marked an attack by Woods, and Dombrowski quickly countered. Kuss marked that move as well and then found himself on the front of the GC group with just BMC Racing's Kilian Frankiny, who was more than 10 minutes down on GC, up the road.
"Once I saw that Dombrowski and I had a little gap, I knew I was in a good positon already to just go on my own, and I wouldn't have to deal with anything anymore," Kuss said.
Kuss rolled away from the group and soon had Frankiny in his sights. He passed the BMC rider and grabbed the front of the race by the reins, looking back just a few times as he powered away from his competitors toward the finish. TV images showed Kuss apparently smiling as he ground up the 12km climb.
"In the beginning I was maybe smiling a little bit, just because there's no better feeling than just kind of standing up on the pedals and attacking," he said. "It's really fun when you're on a good day and you feel good. There's really no better feeling in the world than just kind of dancing on the pedals up a climb.
"I was having fun," he said, "but when I got the gap and saw Ben Hermans was behind me, and he's a really strong rider, I thought, 'Oh no, that's not really who I want chasing me right now, because he's a real engine.' After that I was really hurting."
Kuss surged once more and put an end to Hermans' hopes for a stage win, soloing across the line 39 seconds ahead of the Belgian and with enough time to slap the hands of eager spectators along the barriers in the final metres.
"It was really cool," he said. "I think halfway through the stage the team had done such a good job that I thought I'd try and go for the win again, just to do it for the six guys on the team that helped me out so much.
"So to make it across the line, I was more happy for them and the staff and everything because it's been such a nice atmosphere at this race with the team," he said. "So all credit to them, and of course the fans and everything. It's fun to be able to relate to the people who are watching the race and have a good time with them."
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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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