For cyclists in Durango, Colorado, Sepp Kuss’s Tour de France stage win brought joy, memories, and good vibes.
JULY 15, 2021
At the Kuss family home in Durango, Colorado, Dolph and Sabina Kuss screamed into the television this past Sunday, watching their son, Sepp, navigate the twists and turns on his bicycle as he descended the Col de Beixalis during stage 15 of the Tour de France, thousands of miles away in Andorra.
Behind Kuss, Alejandro Valverde gave chase, hoping to challenge the American for the stage win.
“Come on Seppy, take a risk,” shouted Dolph, a two-time Olympic cross-country skiing coach for Team USA in 1964 and 1972. “I was encouraging him on that downhill so he wouldn’t have to battle Valverde out for the last few seconds going into the finish. Sepp, of course, I know he’s not void of downhill skills. When they would show the splits – 18, 20, down to 15, back to 16 – oh man, every one of those second losses felt like they sucked the wind out of you, and every gain brought you to life.”
Sabina, herself a cyclist who has conquered the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic from Durango to Silverton on numerous occasions, at times with her son in tow during his early days on a bike, said she could watch him without fear as he reached speeds as high as 50 mph on the downhill for the first time in her life.
“Thank goodness there was no rain,” Sabina Kuss told VeloNews. “We know Sepp is a good descender, so this was the first time I could relax, and I took every curve with him.”
As Dolph and Sabina proudly looked on, Sepp held off Valverde, and coasted across the line to take the biggest victory of his professional cycling career. In doing so, he became the first American in a decade to win a stage of the Tour de France.
Back in Durango, Colorado, where Sepp grew up, the victory sent ripples through the community. Those who knew him best had just watched him do what he had done so. many times on a mountain bike throughout his childhood. And in the days after the victory, these friends explained how Kuss’s win reverberated throughout the mountain town in Southwestern Colorado, that has produced so many great cyclists before.
“Back in 2017 when he was racing domestically for Rally Cycling, Sepp, Howard Grotts and I rode the South Boundary Trail from Angel Fire to Taos in New Mexico,” said pro mountain bike and gravel racer Payson McElveen of Durango.
“It was a super long descent and pretty technical in the end. I don’t think Sepp had ridden his mountain bike in like nine months or something crazy because he had been focused on the road. But he just hops on his mountain bike, and he was ripping, and he was even wearing road pedals and road shoes. Howie and I had just gotten off a full mountain bike season, and Sepp had absolutely not lost a beat.
“So when he dropped into that descent on the Tour, I had a pretty good feeling he was just going to absolutely rip it. It was easy to believe in his massive bank of skills at this point,” McElveen added.
Dreams of mountain bike success fill many Durango children at a young age. From his early days working with coach Chad Cheeney at Durango Devo, Kuss was known for his small frame, pointy elbows, strong climbing ability, and the tail whips he would try to throw off even the smallest features on any trail.
“Like everyone, he was into mountain bikes. But he would always ride the road, too,” Cheeney said. “Sepp always had these really cool and funny custom road bikes, beaters he had boughten off eBay or found in the Durango Cyclery recycling section. He’d find these super-light frames and put funky parts on them. We’d go on rides, and his bike would be creaking and rattling loose. He was this cobbler of bikes.”
During his senior year of high school, Kuss made the USA Cycling roster for the UCI mountain world championships, and he was a member of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory Devo Sweet Elite team put together in Durango. It was made up of under-23 stars such as Kaylee Blevins, Lauren Catlin, Tad Elliott, Grotts, McElveen, and Sarah Sturm along with high school shredders in Kuss and Stephan Davoust, among others.
While none of those riders ever would have gone on to predict the success Kuss would have in road cycling, he left a few clues behind along the way.
“We were at a race in Colorado Springs for Sweet Elite, and Sepp couldn’t make it because he was in Europe for a world cup,” Cheeney said. “We all watched the live timing for it. He started like 130th, and it was a super climbing race. He moved all the way up to like 50th or something. All of us had the tingles, and we looked at each other like, ‘Holy cow, Sepp can really, like really, climb. Before, we all knew he was fast, but that was this world-class moment. Before, you just thought of Sepp as some chill and mellow guy. You never thought of him as a world killer.”