Should Sepp Kuss win the Vuelta a Espana, he can give a special thanks to rival Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) and to social media. They were truly his best allies.
Landa helped Kuss save precious time to keep his red jersey when big-star teammates Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard attacked him on the Angliru. The American managed to keep the race lead by a mere eight seconds.
Then cycling social media swing into action for Kuss. After two consecutive days of watching such an outrageous show of disloyalty, critics hammered Jumbo-Visma. They let Vingegaard and Roglic know they were shocked, appalled and ashamed for those two riders. There was a firestorm of criticism from former riders, team directors and fans worldwide.
If the mild-mannered Kuss was too nice and self-effacing, too diplomatic and too new to the role of team leader, to say “knock this shit off,” then social media would do the job for him. If the team directors at Jumbo Visma were unwilling or unable to reign in the ambitions of Jonas and Primoz, then twitter would remind them about unity and loyalty.
Social media took Kuss under its digital wing and acted as protector and supporter. Kuss might not have had the teammates he needed, but social had his back all the way up the mountain. Whether it was #sepptember or @GCKuss, the modest and hard-working Coloradan became the people’s choice.
The tidal wave of online support finally had its desired effect on the final mountain stage of the race. Jumbo-Visma was forced to come to its senses and relearn the values of loyalty and sportsmanship. Today on stage 18 they suddenly switched from an every-man-for-himself strategy and finally agreed to ride for Kuss and shepherd him to his grand tour victory in Madrid.
‘After the Angliru we had to reel things in and understand the bigger picture’ said Kuss. Seems to us, he has always seen the bigger picture, it just took the rest of the team a while to come around.
Well, better late than never. Kuss said that when the team got together on the second rest day he had had “a bit of imposter syndrome, I didn’t know whether it was my place to say how things should be. But every day I believe more in myself, that I completely deserved to be in this jersey and to have the support of the team.”
Kuss didn’t need to say it. Social media made it loud and abundantly clear. They screamed it, they went viral.
Today on the double ascent of the Alto de la Cruz de Linares, Roglic and Vingegaard were right where they were supposed to be since the day Kuss took over the red jersey. No attacks, no personal agenda, no treachery.
“It’s an honour to have two such champions working for you”, said Kuss. “They have both won some big races in the recent past. I’m grateful for the work that Jonas and Primoz did for me today. It means a lot to me. Although it might be difficult to see from the outside, we have a clear plan.”
And at last, the mumbo-jumbo and double speak also came to and end. Both Rolgic and Vingegaard were effusive about supporting Kuss. “It’s fantastic to be able to do something for Sepp in this way. I will always remember what he has done for me,” said Vingegaard. “So, I wanted to give something back.”
We’re not going to call if a love-fest quite yet, but the warmth has gone up significantly. “I’m happy with the way things are going,” said Roglic. “Today’s stage was mainly about defending our positions in the general classification. Sepp is still wearing the red jersey, which puts us in a good position.”
Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) summed things up nicely. “There’s a lot of pressure in that team now; there’s a lot of outside pressure as well, but obviously, I’d love to see Sepp [Kuss] win, and I think most of the peloton would as well.” And most of the social media world.