Barcelona (AFP) – American rider Sepp Kuss claimed his first Grand Tour victory in the Vuelta a Espana on Sunday in Madrid, which he described as “life-changing”, as his team Jumbo-Visma completed an unprecedented treble.
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While Jumbo-Visma co-leaders Vingegaard and Roglic are accustomed to being the superstars, this week they supported their usually loyal domestique Kuss to his maiden Grand Tour success on apparent team orders.
Kuss, 29, crossed the line smiling wide, his position as general classification leader not under threat on stage 21’s flat 101.5 kilometre procession to Madrid.
“It’s incredible — I think today was the stage that I suffered in the most of the whole race, now I’m just glad it’s over,” said Kuss.
“I’ll still be me — it’s life-changing for sure, but I think I’ll just look back on this experience with a lot of fond memories.”
He continued: “It’s still sinking in and it’s going to take quite some time.
“(Tonight we’ll have) a big celebration, family and friends are here and that is going to be really special.”
Danish rider Vingegaard finished second, 17 seconds behind Kuss, who finished the gruelling 21 stage race in 76 hours, 48 minutes and 21 seconds.
Roglic came in third, just over a minute behind Kuss, with Spaniard Juan Ayuso of UAE Team Emirates beating his compatriots Mikel Landa and Enric Mas to fourth.
“This year, I came with bigger ambitions but it wasn’t possible against a very strong team,” said Ayuso, 21, who finished third in the previous edition of the Vuelta.
Ayuso also claimed the white jersey for best young rider, while Australian Kaden Groves finished with the green jersey for the most points, also winning the final stage after a remarkable bunch sprint.
Groves claimed the intermediate sprint to tighten his grip on the points victory, sticking with Remco Evenepoel, Rui Costa, Nico Denz, Filippo Ganna and Lennard Kamna in the day’s break.
The chasing pack reeled them in to 12 seconds with six kilometres to go in a dramatic finale to both the stage and the Grand Tour as a whole.
Groves surged ahead of Evenepoel, who had moved early, to cross the line first, pursued by Ganna, second, and Denz, third.
“We all looked at each other and that meant the peloton could come back together but I knew that in the sprint I could find a little extra and Remco leading out at 500 metres is a big advantage for me,” said Groves.
The exciting sprint through Madrid’s streets brought to an end to the race which started in Barcelona on August 26, travelling 3,153.8 kilometres to the finale in the Spanish capital.
The first few stages were beset by problems, including stormy weather, rider complaints over dark conditions and an attempted sabotage by protestors for Catalan independence.
The complications soon faded and attention turned to the race itself, with Kuss taking the red jersey from stage eight and holding it until the end.
Reigning champion Evenepoel’s defence crumbled in the Pyrenees but the Belgian bounced back strongly to claim the King of the Mountains jersey for best climber.
Kuss has been part of the winning team in seven Grand Tour victories, including Roglic’s Vuelta treble between 2019-2021, and became only the second rider ever to ride in all three Grand Tours in a season and win one, behind Gastone Nencini in 1957.
He is only the fourth US rider to win a Grand Tour, after Chris Horner at La Vuelta in 2013, Greg LeMond, who won three Tour de Frances between 1986 and 1990, and Andrew Hampsten, Giro champion in 1988.
Lance Armstrong, seven times winner of the Tour de France between 1999 and 2005, and Floyd Landis, crowned in 2006 at the same race, had their victories withdrawn by the International Cycling Union after being convicted of doping.
Race organisers said earlier Sunday that the start of the 2024 Vuelta would take place in Portuguese capital Lisbon on August 17, which was also the first city outside of Spain to host a first stage.
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