Climbing with his tongue out, which has become his trademark, Durango’s Sepp Kuss ascends the Col de Beixalis in Andorra on the way to his win on Stage 15 of the 2021 Tour de France. (Courtesy of Team Jumbo-Visma)
Hailed as “The Durango Kid,” Sepp Kuss accomplished the greatest feat by an athlete in the storied history of the Colorado mountain town Sunday.
Kuss, 26, can now call himself a stage winner of the Tour de France. He is only the 11th rider from the United States to win a stage of the event in its 108-year history, and he is the first American since Tyler Farrar in 2011 to celebrate victory at the world’s most famous race.
“I am in total disbelief,” Kuss said. “I never would have imagined winning a stage in the Tour, especially this year because I never felt super good in the stages leading up to this. To do it shows that you always need to believe in yourself and keep trying. If you work hard and enjoy what you’re doing, something good always comes from it. That’s what I was thinking about after the race, was the hard work and my love for doing it.”
Following a route that traveled directly past his new residence in Andorra, Kuss would mount a solo attack three miles before the summit on the last of four categorized climbs Sunday. Chased only by Spain’s Alejandro Valverde, a four-time Tour de France stage winner, Kuss built a 25-second advantage going over the top of Col de Beixalis with a steep gradient of 8.5%.
Sepp Kuss of Durango celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the 15th stage of the Tour de France cycling race Sunday after riding 118.9 miles with start in Ceret, France, and finish in Andorra-la-Vella, Andorra. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)Christophe Ena
“I don’t ride to Col de Beixalis much in training because it’s so hard, but I knew if I had a good gap, I’d stay away till the finish,” Kuss said. “I felt confident in my descending. But there was a lot of headwind on the flatter part to the finish, so I was still a bit nervous with the gap. I was suffering like crazy the last two kilometers to keep driving away.”
With a ripping descent into Andorra la Vella, the capital city of the country nestled between France and Spain in the Pyrenees mountains, Kuss had to fight with everything he had to hold off the charging Valverde, the 2018 world champion long heralded as one of the most explosive finishers in the peloton.
Kuss would keep Valverde at bay, as he finished the 118.9-mile Stage 15 in 5 hours, 12 minutes, 6 seconds. Valverde, who was 23 seconds behind Kuss, found the 2013 graduate of Durango High School at the finish area, and the two exchanged congratulations in Kuss’ newly learned tongue of Spanish.
Spain’s Alejandro Valverde, left, congratulates stage winner Sepp Kuss of Durango after the fifteenth stage of the Tour de France cycling race Sunday in Andorra-la-Vella, Andorra. Kuss held off Valverde for his first career Tour de France stage win. Valverde, the 2018 world champion, has won four Tour stages in his storied career. (Thomas Samson/Pool Photo via AP)Thomas Samson
“At the finish, he just said, ‘Job well done.’ We were both saying how hard it was and how hard we were going over the climb and also in the headwind all the way to the finish,” Kuss said. “For me, it’s nice when a rider like Valverde, who has won so many races and been in cycling for so long tells you ‘good job’ at the end of a race.”
Going into this year’s Tour de France, Kuss quickly noticed the Stage 15 route that would ride from the French communue of Céret and into Andorra, where he and his girlfriend, Noemi Ferré, are in the process of building a home.
“Today, I knew it was finishing where I live, so I was motivated for the stage. My girlfriend and her family stood on the final climb to cheer me on, so I am really happy that I won here,” Kuss said. “I also didn’t want to overthink it or target it too much coming into today. If it doesn’t go well, then you’re more disappointed. I needed to take every day as it came, and today I focused on doing the race one step at a time, getting through each moment and do the best I could in the end.”
.It was another magnificent solo victory on the Tour today as Sepp Kuss triumphed in Andorra la Vella!