OAK GLEN VILLAGE, CA (CT) — While the two best-known climbers at the Redlands Bicycle Classic marked each other, unheralded Sepp Kuss of the Gateway-Harley Davidson team jumped clear to win the second stage of the Redlands Bicycle Classic Thursday.
With the win, Kuss, a 22-year-old student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, took the biggest victory of his young cycling career.
Behind him, Australian Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly) and Colombian Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Sutter Home) marked each other, allowing Kuss to open a gap. But the time they reacted, it was too late. Kuss crossed the line with time to post up, a few bike lengths ahead of Morton, with a giant smile across his face.
“It was pretty relaxed, or at least more relaxed than I thought [it would be]” Kuss said. “The first half of the climb we had a pretty good group. I was pretty comfortable. I kind of had to hold myself back there, early on, when I saw some attacks going down. I waited for some stronger guys to go. I followed a Silber guy [Matteo Dal-Cin], and just countered that move. I think I benefited from people not really knowing who I am, so I was able to ride it into the finish. I’m just over the moon right now. I’m pretty excited.”
Acevedo took over the race lead, keeping the yellow jersey within the team after Ruben Companioni won the opening stage. On Thursday, Companioni took over the race’s KOM jersey.
“It was a surprise, but I knew there would be guys here who I might not know of, who would be climbing well,” Acevedo said. “It was a good attack. I was mostly focused on Morton.”
Morton, who also lives in Boulder, admitted he wasn’t familiar with Kuss, but gave him credit for “pulling off a really good ride.”
“He made a move at about 700 meters to go, and Janier and I were kind of looking at each other. I didn’t want to commit with him on my wheel, and by the time we’d waited a bit, he had five or 10 seconds. I started my sprint with 100 meters to go, but he had to much time. It was a good win by him.”
The 90-mile (145km) race, with six laps on a 14-mile circuit before the 5-mile climb to Oak Glen Village, was marked by a five-man breakaway that went clear early and stayed away after the climb began.
In the move: Robin Carpenter (Holowesko-Citadel), Justin Oien (Axeon-Hagens Berman), Travis Samuel (H&R Block), Nigel Ellsay (Silber), and Colin Strickland (Elbowz).
From the breakway, Carpenter was the last man standing on the climb, caught and passed by Chad Beyer (Lupus Racing) before a larger group absorbed them both.
In the final kilometer, Kuss launched his move.
“Before the final push I countered with maybe 400 meters to go,” Kuss said. “I looked back, and I had a decent gap, and I just hung on for dear life. I kept looking back, thinking they were going to kick it hard in the finish, but I held on.”
The 2015 collegiate national cross-country champion and a two-time medalist at the U23 national cross-country championships, Kuss was blown away by the result.
“I had a disappointing day yesterday,” Kuss said. “I really struggled in the heat. I wanted to redeem myself today. I think I did that.”
Friday brings a 7.1-mile (11.4km) out-and-back time trial, with a climb on the first half and descent to finish. Saturday, with rain in the forecast, is the well-known, technical Redlands Criterium, followed by Sunday’s infamous Sunset Loop, a hilly, technical circuit where the overall classification is often won or lost.
While Kuss is out of the GC conversation, 1:51 down, Acevedo and Morton are separated by just two seconds.
“We’ll see how it is,” Morton said. “I’ve been time trailing pretty well, but haven’t done any time trials this long, this year. I’m hoping I can pull out a good time trial. I’d probably rather defend on Sunset Loop, if that’s an option. If there’s still time to make up there, we’ll go into that having an attacking race.”
“I’ve ridden the [TT] course, and I think it’s deceptively hard. On the way out, it’s always either uphill, or kind of a drag. I think it will be full gas until the turnaround, then hang on for dear life on the way home. We could be set up for an aggressive final stage on Sunset. I’ve always had fun there, always been on the attack there. I always look forward to that. Along with the Gila Monster stage at Tour of the Gila, they’re my two favorite days of racing in America.”
Likewise, Acevedo said he expected the time trial would likely not produce dramatic time differences, and that the GC battle could ultimately come down to the Sunset Loop.
“There are only a few seconds between me and other riders,” Acevedo said. “I will have to watch day by day, stage by stage. I know the Sunset Loop. It’s really difficult. I’ll try to be ready for it.”
As for Kuss, he didn’t seem overly concerned about the time trial. “It will be my first time ever on a time trial bike,” the mountain-bike rider joked. “It should be… interesting.”