“Sometimes it’s better being second fiddle than the leader" - INEOS Grenadiers head coach doubts if Sepp Kuss can triumph as out-and-out GC leader

At the final Grand Tour of 2023, Jumbo-Visma completed their historic Grand Tour hattrick and locked out the entire podium. It wasn't through either of their leaders Primoz Roglic or Jonas Vingegaard however, but through the highly regarded, super-domestique, Sepp Kuss.

The fact Kuss was competing in his third Grand Tour of the year, made the feat even more impressive. “Doing the three Grand Tours at a high level is not new - my idol, Marino Lejaretta, did exactly that in the 1990s, and he was one of the pioneers of the modern age,” INEOS Grenadiers head coach Xabier Artetxe tells Cycling News. “It’s also true that you need a good plan and Sepp Kuss had only done two races before the Giro - UAE and the Volta a Catalunya, probably taking things quite calmly in both so he’d be in top form for the summer. But to me, the key factor is to be psychologically prepared for it and not everybody has the kind of mentality that a guy like Sepp Kuss clearly has.”

As mentioned, Kuss has long been regarded as arguably the peloton's best mountain domestique, with the American himself saying in the past he doesn't enjoy the pressures of leadership. When he got his chance at the Vuelta a Espana though, Kuss excelled.

“He’s maybe not the kind of guy who is a natural at leading a bike race, with all the being at the front of the bunch and all the stress management that implies. But the rest of it - Sepp Kuss is a guy who knows how to handle all of that stuff very well,” continues Artetxe, full of praise. “You also need to be a natural Grand Tour rider, one of those guys with especially fast recovery levels. That’s Kuss’ case."

The question now though, is do teams like the INEOS Grenadiers now see Sepp Kuss as more of a threat and will Team Visma | Lease a Bike use the American as part of a two-pronged Maillot Jaune challenge at the Tour de France in 2024, or will he back to working solely in the charge of Jonas Vingegaard?

“Up to this year’s Vuelta, we’d never seen Kuss doing a GC for himself and he’s shown what he can do. Maybe next year, though, if they put him in the Giro, say, handling the pressure of being ahead every single day, being in the thick of the action from the get-go, is something he can’t do so well," Artetxe analyses. “Sometimes it’s better being second fiddle than the leader. We know that, we did that twice - in 2018 when Geraint Thomas was the plan B for Chris Froome in the Tour de France and in the 2019 Tour when Egan Bernal was the plan B for Geraint. Which just goes to show, again, that while the physical question matters, above all it’s the psychological factor which is key.”

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