Can a shadow win the Vuelta a Espana?
After today’s stage 16 summit finish to Bejes, the answer appears to be no, highly unlikely.
It was a surprise and not a surprise when Jonas Vingegaard (3rd on GC) attacked race leader and teammate Sepp Kuss at 3.8 kilometers from the finish. So much for the idea he’d support his loyal and indispensable domestique in winning a first grand tour. The Dane never looked back, taking over a minute out of Kuss.
Then it was Roglic’s turn to let Kuss know loyalty only goes so far up a steep mountain with personal glory on the line. The Slovenian was watching his own GC ambitions go up in smoke so he hit the gas hard. Kuss was momentarily dropped but managed to fight back and finish just four seconds behind.
Jumbo-Visma cannibalism scorecard: Vingegaard is now just 29 seconds behind Kuss with the absolute torture climb of the Angliru cued up for tomorrow. Roglic is 1:30 behind and with such insane gradients, it’s more than possible he also climbs over Kuss’ body to take second in Madrid.
The somewhat odd part is that Kuss didn’t seem bothered in the least. “This finish was too explosive for me, but I still have good feelings. I don’t want to win the Vuelta as a present, for me that’s not sport. They [Roglič and Vingegaard] know what I’ve done and they’re also winners.”
Well, that’s awfully noble of Kuss, awfully generous and understanding and fair. It’s also perhaps a huge mistake for his own career, if he has any intention of every taking on a leadership role and winning stage races for himself.
Can a shadow take over the stage? Can the support actor step up to the lead role? Is the backup singer capable of singing the solo? It’s not an easy transition and it often seems that riders are quickly sorted into roles that they’re stuck with.
The disconnect is that while Kuss says he’s more comfortable in the shadow, he also wants the victory. “We’ll see what happens, but there’s still a margin and I’d still like to win,” said Kuss after his teammate Vingegaard took large chunks of time out of his dream.
It seems to us that either Kuss isn’t sure what exactly he wants or he’s just extremely Zen and not overly attached to the end result in Madrid. The Buddhist approach is laudable on some level but also curious for any rider who says he wants to win the Vuelta.
“From the beginning of the Vuelta, when it was just Jonas and Primoz [as co-leaders], they both had the freedom to try for the win,” said Kuss. “Then when I came into the picture, that made it more complicated.”
Well, after today, it doesn’t seem very complicated at all. His two Jumbo-Visma captains, guys he’s helped win seven, let’s all-cap that, SEVEN, grand tours, are absolutely unwilling to consider any payback. And the somewhat diffident Kuss is all good with that.
And that’s terrific, we guess, but if you tell the media you’d like to win, then a little more alpha male is required. We love Sepp Kuss and hoped he’d get the support he deserved but it’s evident now that Jumbo is a dog eat dog operation.
You either come out of the shadows or you stay in the shadows.