After two days of free hands and feet and attacks on the leader’s own shirt, the bosses of Jumbo Visma pulled the handbrake and followed the unwritten rules of cycling and decided to the satisfaction of the cycling public that Sepp Kuss would win the 78th Tour of Spain.
Two meetings, two different commands. On the second free day around Santander, the leading three cyclists of this year’s cycle tour of Spain, with the blessing of the Jumbo Visma team management, agreed that the road will decide. They are in the final stages Sepp Kuss, Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglič given the go-ahead to go head-to-head, on the condition that their leading three places in the La Vuelta 23 standings are not threatened.
“We talked about what happened in the two stages before Angliru, so it was ‘before’ Angliru and ‘after’ which I think is fair,” after Thursday’s 18th stage, Sepp Kuss confirmed both meetings and conclusions. “There was a lot of negativity on social media about these two stages, which made it difficult to read what we had agreed on our plan before Angliru.”
At both stage finishes on the Bejes and Angliro mountains, there were actually attacks by paper co-captains on a teammate wearing the leader’s shirt. Competitors from other teams no longer threatened the leading three, but the two-time winner of the Tour de France reduced the gap of 1:44 to just 8 seconds in two days.
PR failure of the Dutch team
When Roglič sped up under the top of Angliru, Vingegaard did not stay with Kuss, he was virtually about to undress his loyal assistant, while the Slovenian would have needed more than a minute to do something like this… In the end, the American’s help is crucial on the worst climb in Spain offered by Mikel Landa. For four seconds on the road and four seconds bonus for stage 3rd place. Kuss went to Angliru to apologize to Bask because he had to overtake him at all costs on the descent in front of him.
Commentators, professional and fan, were plebiscitarily horrified, online forums were on fire, Jumbo Visma was on the brink of public relations disaster. When Kuss went on the radio at the moment of disconnection two kilometers below the summit of Angliru, the team’s official account immediately tweeted the words “Let’s go guys!” as a kind of license for a paper co-captain. But when at the finish line, chief sports director Grischa Niermann admitted that they had neither heard nor seen this conversation.
Things changed mid-race
“We never imagined that we would be the strongest three guys in the race and it complicated things in a way that we were less responsive to others and more looking for ways or wanting to win, which is completely normal. So after yesterday we had to calm down and understand the bigger picture,” Kuss admitted that, after heated moves and flaring passions, the bosses decided that the order should remain as it was according to Angliru. The supreme boss almost certainly had the last word Richard Pluggewho just joined the team on Wednesday.
“I didn’t go into this season or this race thinking or wanting to lead. I was quite happy with my role as assistant, but then, as we know, halfway through this race things changed a lot for me so now I was in a position managers. When we talked on the day off I had a bit of impostor syndrome, I didn’t know if it was my place to say how things should be. But every day I believe more in myself that I fully deserved the manager’s jersey and to receive team support,” the 29-year-old from Durango in the state of Colorado told the leader’s press conference.
Angliru cemented the pecking order
For the Dutch cycling team, which is about to achieve a historic feat – winning all three three-week races of the season – they regularly emphasize the plan and its execution. But contradictory moves on the road and contradictory words confused the public. So what was the plan really?
“We wanted everyone to leave feeling like they could leave everything on the road, which turned into a potentially difficult situation, especially watching on TV or understanding what was going on,” Kuss agreed that it was difficult for cycling enthusiasts to understand what was going on at bees. “That was the idea. I speak only for myself, I left everything on the road and I feel that I deserved this place. And after everything was more concrete in terms of the general classification, we decided to race as we saw today” concluded the super assistant, who is three days away from a career success.
A dream Vuelta, with strange feelings
The century-old unwritten rule of not attacking the leading rider from one’s own team was too strong for the black and yellow to insist on assurances to both Roglič and Vingegaard that they would be able to show their (over)power on the road. As seen in the 18th stage, by far the strongest team in the Vuelta will now race conservatively to Madrid. Five stage victories, the first three places in the overall total (for the first time since 1966!) and the winning of all three Grand Tours still give Jumbo Visma the most dominant victory in modern cycling history.
“I’m getting closer, tomorrow is an easier stage, but the 20th stage is long and hard. We got rid of the high mountains, but we still have some hard climbs ahead of us. I have to stay focused,” the now undisputed leader of both the team and the Race to Spain concluded the meeting with the journalists.