Chris Horner, first American winner of the Vuelta a Espana hopes Sepp Kuss, the second winner, will jumpstart US road cycling. We sincerely hope he’s right but this seems highly unlikely.
“The racing scene in the US is drowning or at best its nose is over the water. Hopefully, this brings out the exposure but it does take a few years because it doesn’t happen immediately,” said Horner.
There’s no question Kuss’ surprising win and his wonderful personality have energized road racing fans here in the US. However, even his thrilling grand tour victory isn’t enough to save stage racing.
Horner is correct when he says racing is drowning. I’d go further — it’s belly up and dead. The Amgen Tour of California has been deceased for almost four years. Colorado’s US Pro Cycling Challenge went out of business after the 2015 edition. The Tour of Utah was cancelled during the Covid years and then never revived. (The 2018 race was won by none other than Sepp Kuss.)
Horner is a never-say-die optimist but stage racing just ain’t coming back. The financial model doesn’t work in the US, deep pocket sponsors can no longer be found and fans often can’t relate to a historically European sport.
That said, Horner can dream, right? “I think that Sepp Kuss is an amazing ambassador for the sport on the US side. His character is just such a joy to watch, with how he dedicates his success to the team, and it’s really remarkable how he races. He’s a fantastic guy.”
Sepp Kuss is an amazing guy and he will inspire young riders to train hard and aim high. His humble nature, class, immense talent and joyful attitude will draw new fans. But stage racing in the States is dead and buried or the ashes are in an urn on Lance Armstrong’s office shelf.
Jonathan Vaughters and his EF Education-EasyPost formation have done an amazing job just keeping the squad funded through several years of desperate sponsor searches. Lidl-Trek has the backing of a global US bike manufacturer to keep the doors open and the lights on. Ain’t nobody else in the picture.
Sad to say but most American’s just aren’t that interested in bike racing and in particular stage racing. Despite Kuss’s amazing win, it never got one mention on the home page of the ESPN website. The category header list has over 23 sports but not cycling. While cricket and horse racing are represented, cycling is so niche it can’t even make the cut over the Little League World Series.
Pro road racing isn’t niche, it’s invisible. Except for people tuning in for the Tour de France, the sport just doesn’t have much traction.
Few people know this better than Vaughters. He’s trying to attract sponsors and new fan bases for his WorldTour team. Here’s what he’s discovered works: gravel racing.
His rider Lachlan Morton races an alternative calendar at Unbound Gravel, Leadville 100, GBDuro and Three Peaks Cyclocross races. Morton also creates media attention by dreaming own his own attention-getting exploits like his Alt Tour, where he rode the entire Tour de France route unsupported.
That’s what fans here in the US can relate to and embrace. And those are the same events they themselves can often enter. The gravel scene and the fondos are what grab attention, not the Tour of Romandie.
We really wish Sepp Kuss’ Vuelta a Espana victory would reignite pro road racing in this country. It just isn’t going to happen.