The big talking point at the Vuelta a España is the Jumbo-Visma politics, and GCN/Eurosport expert Sean Kelly had some strong words to say on the matter, describing the decision of Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard to ride away from Sepp Kuss on the Angliru as “very unfair” and “so disappointing”.
Kuss, who has helped the pair to a total of six Grand Tours over years of service as a domestique, has led the Vuelta since infiltrating a first-week breakaway but, despite riding away from rivals on other teams, his lead has been chipped away by his own teammates.
Vingegaard gained time with wins atop the Tourmalet and on Tuesday’s steep finish, and on Wednesday it was Roglič who led the latest charge on the Angliru – he and Vingegaard electing not to wait when Kuss started to lose contact.
“I think it’s unfair,” Kelly, who won the Vuelta in 1988, said on GCN’s post-race analysis show, The Breakaway.
“When you see Sepp Kuss, the way he’s been so loyal to those two riders over many years, winning big races for them, they didn’t show anything there, they just kept going.
“When they have such [a] close relationship over so many years, all that comes into it. It’s not like a rider has just come into the team and finds himself in the leader’s jersey. You have to take that [history] into consideration, and it’s not been taken on board.
“I think Sepp Kuss’ manager is probably on the phone to a lot of teams already now,” he added later.
While there was an argument that Vingegaard’s previous attacks had been more nuanced from a tactical perspective, Kelly pointed out that the trio had already buried the competition on the Angliru, and was bemused that the two of them would ride away from their race leader in that way.
“When Kuss was getting into difficulty, he was immediately on the radio, I presume saying ‘I can’t follow’, and what do you expect them to do? Slow down a fraction,” Kelly argued. “Ayuso was already dropped a long way out; the danger man to challenge for the podium was out of the equation altogether. I think they went harder when they knew Kuss was getting distanced.
“It’s so easy,” Kelly added, arguing that the directors in the team car should have stepped in to give some instructions.
“It’s not complicated. Sometimes tactics can get complicated with riders in between and they’re a danger on GC, but there was no danger at all there. They could have just knocked it off a fraction, it would make no difference to the race, keep Kuss with them, carry him to the finish, and whoever wants to take the stage victory, ok go and do it. I feel it’s very unfair.”
‘What a load of baloney’ – Sean not impressed with comments from Roglič and Vingegaard
Kelly’s colleagues in the studio joked that he was ‘holding back’ at first, but once post-race interviews with Roglič and Vingegaard were played, he certainly wasn’t.
First up was Roglič, in a double dose. The first one, Kelly felt he was “going around the question, as he does”, but the second, which caught a great deal of attention, saw Roglič grappling with the conflict between riding for his teammate and riding for himself.
“‘I want to race it… I want Sepp to win… I knew Sepp was getting dropped…’ He’s contradicting himself all the time there,” Kelly said.
“He said ‘I knew he was getting dropped, I wanted to slow down, but I wanted to race on…’ How do you slow down on a mountain, lad? You just take the pressure off the pedals.”
As for Vingegaard, the Tour de France champion suggested that he wanted Kuss to win the Vuelta a España.
“What a load of baloney,” Kelly retorted. “He didn’t answer the question at all. You could see the way he was playing around and not answering it. He knew what was happening on the mountain, that’s for sure.”
There was another interview, with GCN/Eurosport’s Alberto Contador – two times a winner atop the Angliru – speaking to Kuss right after the finish. In it, Kuss admitted that “I want my shot” but deferred to his usual mode of being “happy” to sacrifice himself when called for.
“He’s too nice a guy,” Kelly said. “That’s the problem for Sepp, he’s not able to take that authority in the team briefing and say ‘I want to win this tour, guys’. If you don’t have the mentality, well then you’re going to get flicked, as we say in Flemish.”