Will Jumbo-Visma devour one of their own?
After a week of debate, most cycling experts seem to think it’s unlikely Jonas Vingegaard or Primoz Roglic would attack their own teammate in order to win the Vuelta a Espana for themselves.
The argument is based on the idea that Kuss has been instrumental in helping them win six grand tours. Would they stab Kuss in the back and prevent him from winning his first grand tour? The man who helped Jonas win two Tour de France titles, the guy who helped Roglic win a Giro d’Italia title and three Vuelta?
It’s a pretty strong argument. They both owe Kuss a tremendous debt of gratitude. On the second rest day, fourth place Eric Mas (Movistar) put it this way.
“I don’t think there’s any bad vibe between them, they’re a team. Each one can have their own individual take on things, but they don’t show that,” said Mas. “They’re very united and I don’t think they will attack each other. A wholly different question is if one of them starts to crack and the others don’t stay back with him.”
In the opinion of Mas, there’s tremendous upside for the team it Kuss does finish in red in Madrid. “If it was me, I’d be happy seeing how my usual last man in the mountain stages can win the Vuelta. And I think inside the team they’d be delighted with the chance of winning a Grand Tour with three different riders.”
The dissenting voice comes from a rider who has seen both sides of the story. “If he’ll win? I think it’s more down to his teammates, really, if they will attack him or not,” said Geraint Thomas of Ineos Grenadiers. “I won’t be surprised if they did, to be honest.”
Thomas knows all about the dynamic of a loyal, climber domestique who suddenly has an opportunity to win a grand tour. In the 2018 Tour de France, Thomas was on the form of his life and leading the GC standings going into the third week but his boss Chris Froome still appeared to ride for himself and hunt opportunities to unseat his teammate. It wasn’t until Thomas put the hammer down on one of the final mountain stages, proving his absolute superiority, that Froome took a back seat and made nice.
“Vingegaard didn’t come here to ride around here, did he?” said Thomas. “A Tour de France champion, for someone like him to commit to come here, he wants to win it.”
We can certainly support that scenario. Alpha males want to win everything. It’s a “no gifts” mentality. Guys like Contador and Armstrong and Froome were killers. They wanted to dominate their rivals and their own teammates. There could be no ambition or goals except their own.
That said, if they attack Kuss and try to steal his Vuelta, it will destroy the ethos and dynamic of the team. It would be a monumentally selfish move for Roglic to push Kuss aside in order to win a fourth Vuelta. The innately shy Vingegaard just doesn’t seem to be someone who would turn on Kuss.
However, there is a rationale that would explain this level of selfishness. If Roglic and Vingegaard would actually attack Kuss, it would be for one reason only: the Jumbo-Visma team hierarchy for the 2024 Tour de France.
Right now, the reigning Tour champion is the clear leader for the next Tour, with Roglic a Plan B if he’s even at the race. But what if Roglic wins this Vuelta? Then he has a strong case for co-leadership in France. He could say, look, in 2023 I won two grand tours and if not for a shocking upset in the Tour’s final time trial a few years ago, I’d have won that title, too. Roglic doesn’t want to spend the rest of his career in the Tour wilderness. He already has a Giro and three Vueltas — all he’s missing in that Tour title.
For Vingegaard, the motivation for pushing Kuss out of the way and winning the Vuelta is to make 100% sure the Tour de France belongs solely to him. That’s what Alpha dogs do. Why give Roglic any opening?
Here’s hoping that they both recognize that they share the same team goal in Spain: put Sepp Kuss on the top step of the podium. No cannibalism, please — it’s uncivilized.