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by Giancarlo Bianchi
September 19, 2020
Photography by Kristof Ramon
Miguel Angel Lopez of Astana Pro Team powered his way to win the queen stage of the Tour de France on the brutal pitches of the Col de la Loze. But today’s power analysis looks at Jumbo-Visma’s super domestique, Sepp Kuss, and what it takes to be the right-hand man to Primož Roglic within the most dominant team of the 2020 season.
Kuss has been phenomenal for Roglic this Tour, and he showed the extend of his climbing abilities on the Col de la Loze, where he finished fourth. He climbs well enough – has the watts per kilogram – to be a GC contender some day, that much is clear. But his fantastic ride on the Loze comes within a context of the specific duties and pressures of a super domestique. Kuss hasn’t been under pressure every single day of this Tour. In fact he had one bad day, in the Pyrenees, and has been the beneficiary of a sort of domestique subbing system, which gives key domestiques extra “easy” days throughout the race as other teammates stepped up.
Still, the young American sits inside the top 15 overall, and, more importantly, he did his job just about as well as any rider could possibly do it.
Let’s take a look at his stage 17.
As always, power outputs are affected by the efforts that came before. So let’s look at Kuss’ Queen stage.
The ride to the base of the Col de la Madeleine
The ride to the base of the Madeleine took Kuss and the rest of the GC favorites 2 hours 11 minutes, covering a distance of 58.6 miles (94.3 km) at an average speed of 26.9 mph (43.3 kph). In this time he averaged 223w (3.66 W/kg).
As I’ve done previously, one can calculate a rider’s FTP using Strava’s intensity metric. So assuming Sepp has kept his Strava profile up to date (which isn’t the best assumption, to be honest), we estimate his FTP to be 376w (6.16 W/kg). That seems about right, based on his performance, though possibly a bit low. So this portion of the race was ridden at an IF of .59, or what one would do on a nice chatty “ABC” ride with friends.
Col de la Madeleine
With the break up the road, Jumbo-Visma set to do what they have been doing this whole tour, setting a strong yet manageable pace up the Madeleine. As the climb progressed, team Bahrain McLaren came to the front in hopes of making things uncomfortable for Jumbo’s riders and setting up Mikel Landa for some fireworks later. This was definitely a gamble on their part, but as I tell some of the guys I coach, “If you don’t try, then you’ll never know.”
Descent off the Madeleine to the base of the Col de la Loze
Using the Descente Madeleine Nord segment on Strava we can see that Kuss descended off the Madeleine in 26:13 at an average speed of 34.2 mph (55 kph), with a max speed of 60.2 mph (96.88 kph). Despite this, not one Tour de France rider managed to crack the top ten on this segment. Unsurprisingly, not much pedaling occurred here, Sepp only averaged 122w (2 W/kg).
The remaining ride through the valley and on to the base of the Col de la Loze was not as easy as one might assume. The GC group didn’t get as much TV coverage, since the race was up nearly two minutes up the road, but with Bahrain McLaren intent on setting up Landa, the race was definitely “on” in the GC group. Here Sepp and the others covered 9.9 miles (15.9 km) in 23:45, averaging 25.1 mph (40.4 kph). Here Sepp averaged 262w (4.3 W/kg), or just shy of an .70 IF. While this might have been his upper endurance/lower tempo zone, Kuss’ W/kg for this portion is right around threshold for many amateur cyclists.
Col de la Loze
Bahrain McLaren continued their efforts to set the pace up the Col de la Loze, distancing several riders, but only to set up an attack by Landa that never materialized. Instead, it was Miguel Angel Lopez to make the move and capitalize on a fading Rigoberto Uran.
Interestingly enough, this happened just as the riders passed the 2000 meters mark. Riding at altitude can affect riders differently. It can affect you less if you’re from an area that is set at altitude. It’s also something of a learned skill. Riders like Uran, and in fact Kuss, who grew up at 2000m (6500ft) in Durango, Colorado, know what they can do at high altitude and know how to pace themselves with less oxygen.
With 3km to go, Kuss was at the front, off the saddle, closing the final gap to Richard Carapaz. He could be seen making an effort, but didn’t look to be in as much difficulty as Tadej Pogacar. That or he has one of the best poker faces I’ve seen in quite some time. It was here that things got confusing. At first glance, it looked like Primoz was simply unable to follow Sepp’s effort. Post-race interviews offer some more insight on what occurred:
“We talked just before it. I said to him he should go. In that case, the others have to chase him, and I can have a better view of what is happening.” – Primož Roglic
“I was right at the front and I accelerated over the top of one of the transitions but all of a sudden Lopez came across. I tried to stay with him but he was really strong. When I knew I was over the limit I backed off and tried to pace Primož a little bit.” – Sepp Kuss
The section near the top, as Kuss followed Lopez move and then sat up, is the least consistent part of his climb. But even after he was dropped by Lopez, his power didn’t drop considerably. He kept up a good pace, around 5.9w/kg, all the way to the top.
In the end, it seemed that either Lopez was the strongest rider of the day, or Roglic was far more concerned about losing time to Pogacar. Either way, it allowed the Colombian to sail to victory on arguably the hardest stage of the tour thus far. Roglic would eventually distance his Slovenian compatriot and consolidate his lead in the yellow jersey. Meanwhile, Kuss, with his job done for the day, casually crossed the line for fourth on the day, in his debut Tour de France.