Sepp Kuss: For the Love of the Ride
“You can’t be a good bike racer without enjoying riding your bike.”
Photo courtesy of Jumbo Visma: Sepp Kuss trains for the Tour de France
Sepp Kuss, the 27-year-old American rider and climbing specialist who placed 18th at the 2022 Tour de France, spoke with “Riding with Kaplan,” this past Monday.
A Durango, Colo. native and former collegiate mountain biking champion at the University of Colorado, Kuss is now one of the best American cyclists in a generation. He’s won stages at the Vuelta and, in 2021, he was the first American in a decade to win a stage at the Tour de France.
Today, he’s part of perhaps the most dominant cycling team in the world, Jumbo Visma, a team with the potential to dominate the sport like the Chicago Bulls ruled the NBA in the 1990s. The team includes this year’s winner of the TdF, Jonas Vingegaard as well as some of the world’s best riders: Primož Roglič, who almost won the TdF in 2020; Wout van Aert, a champion on the road and in cyclocross who won three stages at the 2022 TdF (and finished in second place in two others); and Christophe Laporte, who also won a stage this year at the TdF.
Kuss is currently at home in Andorra where he’s gearing up for the Vuelta a España (which starts on August 19) and his wedding to Spanish cyclist Noemi Ferre. Preparing for a grand tour and a walk down the aisle would create a fair amount of stress, but Kuss seemed to be taking it all in stride.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
How many miles have you ridden in 2022?
“I don’t know; I don’t even keep track [he noted with a chuckle]. I’m averaging 20 to 30 hours of training a week.” (His Strava page shows that he’s ridden 13,237 miles this year.)
How is your Spanish?
“My Spanish is pretty good. My Catalan is not.”
What did you do after the Tour de France?
“I was out of there as soon as possible. It is nice to be out of the circuit the minute that race ends. We enjoyed that last evening in Paris at the Dutch Embassy (a barbeque dinner with the team, its sponsors, and a lot of outdoor space).”
Why do you think this was the fastest Tour de France ever?
“In modern cycling, the starts are a lot faster. It takes two hours for the breakaway to go and [that whole time] you’re riding 50 kilometers an hour. Then, you start chasing after the breakaway when it has two minutes separation. So there’s rarely a time when you’re going easy. In the past, there would be a lot of stages when it would just be two guys in the breakaway and an easy day in the peloton. Now, every single day is really, really, fast, especially in the Tour. There are so many breakaway stages [that every team has to have someone in the break]. It is always a mess.”
Let’s talk about your career as a professional cyclist. Was there a point in time when you thought, “This is what I want to do.”
“I was always good, let’s say, but there was no one who ever told me that one day I would become a professional. I like doing it. In my mind, I thought it would be temporary and then a different phase of my life would start. And then I started doing better than what my expectations were. I was always a good athlete, but never so good that somebody would say, ‘He would be the next greatest American cyclist.’”
So when did it click?
“I think it was about half way through my time on Jumba Visma, I won the Tour of Utah [in 2018]. I thought, ‘If I can have this feeling in a race then that’s pretty cool—to win races and to be with the best guys.’ It gave me a lot of motivation. Even when I turned pro, I didn’t even know if I could make it. I thought, ‘It’ll be a cool experience for a couple years at least and then we’ll see what happens.’”
Is there someone who has provided sage career advice and has really taught you about the ins-and-outs of professional cycling?
“I would say it is the director of Durango Devo, Chad Cheeney. He was always a mentor and a voice of reason. His advice was to just keep things fun. I didn’t have so many people who challenged me. Even today, it is my intrinsic drive to work hard and to get the most out of myself.”
So it comes from within? You’re a self-reliant guy?
“Yeah, that’s right.”
Photo courtesy of Jumba Visma: Kuss prepares for the time trial at the Tour de France.
What does it take to compete at this level?
“It’s hard, but not excruciating. Most days, you’re just going for a bike ride. Other days, when [the training] is more specific, it’s never anything like you’re going over your limit. Now, you can be going over your mental limit, especially if you’re having a bad day and feeling a bit off.
I just enjoy riding so much. It’s a nice time to be outside and focus on eating well and sleeping well. When I’m training at home, it’s nice. I’m eating what I want, spending time with my girlfriend, and I can think about cycling even less.
Training camp is train, eat, rest. It’s a different rhythm and goes by really fast—kind of like a race. You’re focused on being as good as possible on your bike. I enjoy the training process and getting the most out of that. In terms of diet, some riders struggle with eating and losing weight. For me, if I just focus on riding my bike and doing the training, and enjoying life, then that usually works out for me.”
What’s a typical day?
“I’ll wake up around 7 or 7:30 in the morning. My girlfriend wakes up super early so sometimes I’ll join her. I’ll have coffee and a nice breakfast with eggs and toast. I don’t have a specific time when I leave to ride. Some guys like to go early (especially if they have kids). I like to ride by myself just to have that alone time and get in the zone. After that, I can come home, have a nice lunch, a beer, go into town and see some friends. The day goes by pretty fast.”
Do you ever get time off?
“October is really off. It’s vacation. In November and December, you’re riding a bit. I’ll spend 90 percent of the time on the mountain bike so you’re still training, but in a more fun way with not too much structure.”
What advice do you have for aspiring professional cyclists?
“You have to enjoy the sport for what it is. You have to love it. You can’t be a good bike racer without enjoying riding your bike. At the same time, I would say don’t take it too seriously. Some young riders are so dialed in with training, the power meter, and their diet, that if they do make it, there’s nothing to build on. My advice is to just live in the moment and enjoy it.
“You have to enjoy the sport for what it is. You have to love it.”
It’s always more low points than high points and the challenge is getting through those moments and persevering. It’s even unfair sometimes and you can have really bad luck. Everything can seem like it is going perfectly and then it doesn’t. You have to have trust in yourself and go back to what you love about riding. And that should take you pretty far.”
While Sepp is as chill as a Colorado mountain morning, he’s a fierce competitor on the bike. Take Stage 11, the first mountain stage in this year’s Tour, where Sepp and his teammates repeatedly attacked racer leader Tadej Pogacar. Working together, they wore out Pogacar and put Vingegaard in the yellow jersey. Sepp’s perspective to do what you love and success will follow hopefully will serve him well in what will be a long career with a win in one of the Grand Tours.
Heck yeah, love this kid!
Terrific interview with Sepp Kuss! Thanks for writing it, Jonathan.
You give insight into his relaxed attitude, which can distract from Kuss's inner-directed intensity. Kuss played his role in helping his team leader Jonas Vinegaard. Also, I appreciate Kuss mentioning that in racing there are more low points than high points and that sometimes you can have really bad luck in its many forms. Kuss adds that the Rx for overcoming bad luck is to go back to what you love about writing.
Best wishes for your continued good eye for a story, Jonathan!
Cheers, Peter Nye in Kirksville MO