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Now in its 14th year, the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah bills itself as America’s Toughest Stage Race, with three big mountain days over six stages plus a prologue. At the 2018 edition, American Sepp Kuss (LottoNL-Jumbo) won all three mountain stages, two while wearing the leader’s jersey, and won the overall by over two minutes, earning himself a slot at the Vuelta a España to make his Grand Tour debut.
BMC Racing looked to be in the driver’s seat after sweeping the opening prologue, won by Tejay van Garderen. But Kuss, a talented young climber from Durango, Colorado, attacked up and over Mt. Nebo on Stage 3, holding off the GC favorites for over an hour to win the stage by 32 seconds. The former mountain biker took the race lead and would never look back, only gaining time on his rivals on the two GC days that remained.
American Travis McCabe, a sprinter who can also climb, won the difficult Stage 1 in Cedar City, and backed it up with another victory on Stage 3 into Layton City, becoming the first four-stage winner in the race’s history. After being beaten by McCabe on Stage 4, young Belgian Jasper Philipsen (Hagens Berman Axeon) got it just right the following day, edging out the American to take a photo finish in Salt Lake City.
The final two days of the race were back into the high mountains, and while Kuss could have ridden defensively to preserve the jersey, that just wasn’t his style. Kuss countered attacks from the GC group on a hot Stage 5 and sprung clear on the climb to Snowbird Resort, finishing 39 seconds ahead of Ben Hermans (Israel Cycling Academy) and 1:18 ahead of Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo), building what looked to be an insurmountable GC lead.
Stage 6 started and finished in Park City, featuring a final, steep climb up Empire Pass before a fast 8km descent to the finish. Kuss attacked on the climb, caught and passed the remnants of the day’s breakaway, rode carefully down the wet descent, and just held off a hard-charging Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing) and Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott) to take his third stage win, also sealing the KOM competition.
“This week has been really incredible,” Kuss said. “I knew I was in a good form going into the race and I was pretty confident, too. But to win three stages and the overall ranking is really special. The team was once again very strong. I can’t thank my teammates enough for what they have done for me. Halfway through the stage I felt my legs were good. So I decided to play my cards on the final climb and take it safe on the descent. This victory is one for the whole team because without riders and staff this would never have been possible.”