Controversy as Roglič wins stage 17 at Vuelta but drops race leader and team-mate Kuss

For the second day the red jersey wearer has seen his lead attacked by Jumbo-Visma team-mates

Controversy continued to build at the Vuelta a España on Wednesday as, for the second day running, one of the leaders of the Jumbo-Visma team appeared to ride in a way so as to take time out of team-mate and race leader Sepp Kuss.

On Tuesday it was double Tour de France winner Jonas Vingegaard who jumped clear with four kilometres remaining on the stage, clawing back 1:15 on Kuss and moving to within 29 seconds of the American’s red leader’s jersey.

Wednesday saw triple Vuelta winner Primož Roglič turn the screw, accelerating with three kilometres to go on the wall-like Angliru climb and whittling down the list of stage contenders to himself, Vingegaard and Kuss.

However, Kuss latter started slipping back with just under two kilometres remaining, and ultimately finished 19 seconds behind stage winner Roglič and runner-up Vingegaard.


With time bonuses taken into account, he now leads Vingegaard by just eight seconds, with Kuss reducing his deficit to 1:08.

The three riders had been first, second and third overall in the general classification since stage 13 and many speculated that the team would help Kuss win overall. The affable American normally rides for the other two as a so-called super domestique, using his strong climbing abilities to pace them in the mountains, but was thrust into strong overall contention when he got into a breakaway in the opening week, winning stage six.

He has helped Roglič and Vingegaard to win each of their Grand Tours, a point both made when they praised his stint in the red jersey. However, as Sunday’s end to the race approaches, both seem to be favouring their own personal ambitions and trying to secure overall success at Kuss’s expense.

The latest time loss came on Kuss’s 29th birthday but, despite the controversy of his team-mates deliberately taking time from him over the past two days, he has acted like a peacemaker. He appeared almost apologetic to Roglič after Wednesday’s stage, hugging him twice in a bid to show there was no hard feelings.

However, his apparent tranquillity at what others see as a betrayal has further ramped up the debate, with media and fans alike questioning Jumbo-Visma’s strategy at a time when it was already being perceived as clinical and over-dominant in the sport.

Cycling fans tend to love underdogs and Kuss’s generous nature has many making the arguments that his past loyalties should be rewarded this time around.

Roglič added to the controversy with apparently contradictory comments in a post-race interview. Saying that the best man should prevail and that his attack was made with that in mind, he said he owed it to himself to try.

“Looking to myself and my responsibilities, who I am, I am here to race and I am here to do my best. And at the end the best one will win.”

However, when it was put to him that Kuss, in the red jersey, should be afforded the support as a race leader, he agreed.

“Of course. I said to him, ‘keep fighting, keep believing.’ And he will make it.”

Speaking in his role as a race analyst on Eurosport/GCN, the 1988 Vuelta a España winner Seán Kelly was one of a panel which were critical of Jumbo-Visma’s tactics, and who questioned the inconsistent statements of support for Kuss from Vingegaard and Roglič.

“It is all a lot of baloney,” he said. “They are not being very fair.”

It’s a sentiment many in the sport agree with.

The Vuelta a España continues on Thursday with a summit finish atop La Cruz de Linares.

Shane Stokes

Shane Stokes

Shane Stokes is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about cycling