A conflict brewing inside Jumbo-Visma. An argument that has been claimed by many over the past few days regarding the Vuelta a Espana, the unseen battle between three riders of the same team for a Grand Tour win is leading to a very unexpected and new type of race situation.
"A conflict is smoldering between Vingegaard and Roglic and Kuss is kind of outside of that," Thijs Zonneveld argued in the Het Wiel podcast. "Now that they have three leaders, it is not the classic situation. If it had only been Vingegaard or Roglic with Kuss, they could have managed it much better at Jumbo-Visma. They now both think that if they don't win, Kuss should win. But not the other. You can really see it in the stages.
PREVIEW | Vuelta a Espana 2023 stage 18 - Sepp Kuss' red jersey closer and closer to fall towards Jonas Vingegaard or Primoz Roglic
Both Vingegaard and Roglic have attacked the race in the two mountain stages this week has had to offer, both taking time away from Kuss. This was a strategy quite different to that of stage 14 where they had the opportunity to attack, but all remained conservative. The spectrum of opinions is wide, ranging from Kuss deserving to win the Vuelta, to 'the strongest rider wins', but the situation is never as clear as that - with good reason, as this kind of race scenario is unheard of in Grand Tours.
"If Kuss has been dropped, Roglic can accept that. But when Vingegaard attacks, Roglic thinks 'he's not higher in the pecking order than me' and goes after him," Zonneveld believes, leading to a chaotic situation where the motivations of Roglic and Vingegaard are not clear. "It then actually becomes an ego thing. Roglic then attacks on the Angliru himself and then Vingegaard in turn decides not to stay with Kuss either."
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In the interviews and post-race footage all seem friendly among the Jumbo-Visma group, who is about to make history in more than one sense. However the internal competition, even if not completely clear at points, seems evident by now, with Jonas Vingegaard only 8 seconds behind Sepp Kuss and Primoz Roglic just over a minute, with another colossal mountain stage to be tackled today. And Zonneveld believes that there are different motivations from Vingegaard and Kuss, but that a possible clash between themselves may ultimately dethrone Kuss from the red jersey.
"Suppose Vingegaard wins the Vuelta and Roglic was not allowed to attack for days, because he had to protect Kuss' position. Or vice versa. And at the last moment one of the two gentlemen passes Kuss. Then the other star naturally wonders what that means," he explains. "It's a complicated problem because it's so late in the Vuelta. It is not only the strongest, but also the smartest or dirtiest who wins. Maybe Kuss should attack, so that neither Roglic nor Vingegaard can chase it."