Park City • Once he decided to blow by the competition one last time, only adding to what will be remembered as the most dominant performance in the history of this event dubbed “America’s Toughest Stage Race,” the wheels of Sepp Kuss rode beyond four giant chalk letters inscribed onto the road on Empire Pass.
“KUSS,” it read with 12 miles to go.
Fitting. The kid owned the pavement all week. And in doing so, in winning his first major race as a professional road cyclist since shifting gears and turning pro just two years ago, the 23-year-old former mountain biker proved again why he’s the future of American cycling. Kuss, the Team LottoNL-Jumbo rider, was the commander all week. He won Stage 2, Stage 5 and Stage 6. He won the 2018 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah in emphatic fashion. He led the general classification from Wednesday all the way through Sunday, when he was presented as the Tour’s 2018 champ.
Kuss ditched the dirt for the road two years ago, bursting onto the scene in 2016 when he won a queen’s stage as an amateur rider in the Redlands Bicycle Classic. The three-time U.S. mountain bike champion was eventually signed by Rally Cycling, and in his first stop at the Tour of Utah in 2017 finished second in Stage 2.
These last two seasons have been a swift build to this week, this moment when the rider from Durango, Colo., ruled. In Stage 2, he ruled the slopes of Mount Nebo. In Stage 5 on Saturday, Kuss obliterated the field on the six-mile climb to Snowbird in a stage that featured 9,975 of elevation gain. It was such an impressive ride that he added 39 more seconds to his padded lead, entering Sunday’s last stage th
e prohibitive favorite.
“Yesterday,” said Ben Hermans, who finished second overall behind Kuss,” I hurt myself a lot by trying to follow Sepp.”
Kuss ensured that the last day would be his, too. With less than 12 miles left in the final stage, after riders battled through a week filled with smoky air and punishing climbs, Kuss tapped into one last charge, and boy did it work out masterfully. Sticking to his own script, his climbing ability was on point yet again.
As the riders pushed their way up Empire Pass, the winding, paved, yet intensely steep ride, Kuss’ chase left opposing competitors in his wake. It took only 1.5 miles for him to get into second place in Stage 6, and two miles later, he caught Nathan Brown, the previous leader. In a flash, the race was his again. Inside the media room, cycling experts marveled.
“Kuss can’t help himself,” one said.
He shouldn’t. Not when he can ride like this. Not when he can climb higher and faster and without mercy like he did in the last two legs of this event that featured 546 total miles and 43,780 feet of total elevation gain in stops all over the state. The process has been indeed been expedited for Kuss, all by his own doing. Tour of Utah veteran Brent Bookwalter knew Kuss had his lead comfortably cushioned and knew the only way he’d potentially catch him down the descent necessitated a lot of belief, but also hopes and dreams.
When Team LottoNL-Jumbo announced it had signed him to a two-year contract last September, the sporting director’s quote in the press release stated that they’d known about Kuss and his history on the trails, not the asphalt. “He still has plenty of room for development and we will give him the time to do so,” it read.
It didn’t take that long. Not even a year. Now, his momentum carries him to Europe, where his team announced that Kuss would be part of the LottoNL-Jumbo squad to race at the storied Vuelta a España in the coming weeks.
“It’s going to be super hard,” he said. “I’ve never done anything like it.”
Kuss has arrived, and trading the track for the tar proved quite wise. The evidence of roaring fans lining the wet roads on Park City Main Street drowning out the sounds of those chasing him is proof enough.
General classification results
1. Sepp Kuss, Team LottoNL-Jumbo, 21 hours, 41 minutes, 11 seconds
2. Ben Hermans, Israel Cycling Academy, 21:43:21
3. Jack Haig, Mitchelton-Scott, 21:43:33
Overall team results
1. EF-DRAPAC presented by Cannondale, 65:13:19
2. BMC Racing Team, 65:24:38
3. TREK-SEGAFREDO, 65:35:45
“Felt like a home race for me,” he said.