Accustomed to playing the model teammate, the American Sepp Kuss won his first Tour of Spain on Sunday, confirming the outrageous domination of his Jumbo-Visma team which signs an unprecedented hat-trick in the Grand Tours this year.
The final stage, which looked like a parade on an urban circuit around downtown Madrid, was won by Australian sprinter Kaden Groves, who scored a third victory in this 78th edition.
At the start of the day, the three “wasps”, Vingegaard, Roglic and Kuss, swapped their yellow tunics to parade in a special jersey with three stripes: pink, yellow and red, the colors of the winner's jerseys of the three Grand Tours.
By placing three riders in the first three places, the Jumbo-Visma armada carries out an unprecedented raid on the Vuelta since the Kas-Kaskol team in 1966.
Winning the three Grand Tours in the same year, after Roglic's victory in the Giro and Vingegaard's victory in the Tour de France, is an even greater achievement. Even super powers like Banesto, Sky or, in the more distant past, Peugeot, Renault Gitane, Molteni or Bianchi had lost their teeth there.
That the victory went to Sepp Kuss, the first American to win a Grand Tour since Chris Horner in 2013 already at the Vuelta, is unexpected insofar as the “kid from Durango” is usually confined to a teammate role.
This year he helped Vingegaard win a second consecutive Tour de France and Roglic win the Giro. Dedicated and enduring, he is the only rider in the entire peloton with the Spaniard Luis Leon Sanchez to have participated in the three Grand Tours this year.
Also at the Vuelta, Kuss, 29, had left to fulfill his role as lieutenant in the mountains as usual. But after taking the leader's red jersey during the 8th stage, he suddenly found himself in the shoes of a leader, throwing confusion within his team who, faced with a very unusual situation, did not know how to reconcile the ambitions of his leaders with the emergence of their best assistant.
A few days of uncertainty followed until team boss Richard Plugge decided at a summit meeting on Wednesday evening: it will be Sepp Kuss.
This decision may have particularly offended Roglic, who was aiming for a fourth Vuelta and who seemed to have difficulty accepting the choice of his team.
The absolute domination of the Dutch team inevitably raised suspicions in a sport long plagued by doping cases, but without any concrete evidence to demonstrate the slightest cheating, mechanical or otherwise.
“I am 100% sure that my two colleagues are not taking anything, just like me,” declared Jonas Vingegaard to GCN (Global Cycling Network).
Faced with the same accusations during the Tour de France which he flew over, Jonas Vingegaard assured that he did not take any product that he would not give to his daughter.
“We of course understand the skepticism that exists, but people also need to know how much we sacrifice and how we do everything down to the smallest detail,” added the Dane.
For Sepp Kuss, “there is no question of cheating or doping because it is not sport in my opinion”.
“If you do something that is forbidden or if you cheat, then you are afraid of losing. But that’s the essence of sport: accepting that sometimes you’re not good enough. (...) Part of sport is losing,” analyzed the winner of this Vuelta.
In any case, the team finished the Vuelta with five stage victories - 2 for Vingegaard and Roglic, 1 for Kuss, and unchallenged domination of the race, as soon as it decided to take control.
Title holder, Remco Evenepoel had slipped in the queen stage of the Tourmalet, losing all his chances for the overall. He made up for it by winning three stages and the best climber jersey.
But the Belgian prodigy has not removed all doubts about his ability to withstand the repetition of long mountain passes, while he must discover the Tour de France in 2024.