The Tokyo Olympics aren't the only place where U.S. athletes are taking on the world's best this summer.
When Colorado native Sepp Kuss crested Andorra's Col de Beixalis on July 11, it had been 10 years since an American cyclist won a stage at the Tour de France. But there were still 15 kilometers to go, all downhill, and Kuss was holding a slim 30-second lead against his nearest competitor.
Virtually any error could have cost him the stage. But the 2018 Tour of Utah champion—who got his start in mountain biking and raced his first Tour de France in 2020—executed a flawless descent to the finish line and cemented his status as the United States' top male road cyclist.
City Weekly caught up with Kuss—known in the cycling world as "The Durango Kid"—who opted to forgo any Olympics aspirations this summer to focus on the Tour de France and the upcoming Vuelta a España.
City Weekly: It's been a couple weeks since the Tour de France ended. Have your legs had any chance to recover?
Sepp Kuss: There was a bit of rest but you always want to keep moving. After a week off, it's normal training again to get ready for the next race.
When you won Stage 15, the commentators pegged you to finish first as soon as you finished the climb. When did you know you had the race?
Like any stage in the Tour, you don't want to get over-excited. I didn't really believe it until I was one [kilometer] from the finish. Anything can happen, and I didn't want to get too ahead of myself.
Once I got over the top with a decent margin, I felt confident for the descent. It was still a little way to the finish. I didn't truly let it sink in until I could see the finish line.
How does a race like the Tour of Utah compare to the Tour de France?
The Tour of Utah is a really hard race. To me, it's certainly the hardest race in the U.S.
Any victory is a big deal. It's really hard to win in cycling. For the Tour [de France], it's the biggest race in cycling. The level is just so high, every single rider in the tour is at their top level, and there's just so much more at stake.
Did racing in the 2020 Tour de France change the way you prepared for 2021?
Not so much. More than anything, it just gave me the confidence to do what I needed to do in the race. You learn something every race.
Any lessons from this year's Tour?
Mostly it was a mental takeaway. In the first week, we lost our leader [2020's 2nd place finisher Primoz Roglic], and we had so many crashes. I think the biggest thing to learn was you always have to keep pushing forward and try to get the most out of every day and stay positive.
You skipped this year's Summer Games, but the 2024 Olympics will be held in Paris—any chance you'll roll down the road and compete with Team USA?
Maybe. I can't imagine the [Olympic] course that year will be really suited to me. I don't know if 2024 is really on my radar—maybe if they go into the hills a bit more?
You got your start mountain biking. Do you ever make it to the trails anymore?
I try and get out whenever I can. Usually, the training is pretty structured, but if there's a free day, I like to go on the mountain bike. For me, it's a nice break from the normal routine and just a lot of fun.
What's next for you?
The Vuelta and then after that some one-day races in Italy in October to finish the season. Right now is kind of the main part of my season, doing the Tour and the Vuelta. I'm really looking forward to the next race, and I feel good.