PAYSON — As each of the riders shoved off from the starting line of Wednesday’s Stage 2 of the Tour of Utah they did so with the knowledge that Mount Nebo loomed.
An early breakaway group of six riders reached the base of the climb with a 4-minute lead, but that lead evaporated as the climbers came forward.
With 50 kilometers remaining, 23-year old Lotto NL-Jumbo rider, Sepp Kuss jumped out of his saddle and began picking off riders in front of him. When he gained the lead, the American just kept climbing. The Colorado native, with a mountain-biking background, simply refused to let Mount Nebo get the best of him.
“I followed a surge 3-4K into the climb and once I got the lead I just kept going,” Kuss said.
With a headwind going up the climb, Kuss wondered if he had made the right move.
“I thought to myself this might not be the smartest decision but I felt really good and I was still under my limit so I just kept going,” he said.
By the time Kuss reached the Summit, he had a 1-minute, 15 seconds lead on a group of 12 that included the yellow-jersey rider, BMC Racing’s Tejay Van Garderen.
Kuss wasn’t sure he’d be able to hang onto that lead.
“I’m not the best time-trialist and I’m not super aerodynamic and it was still pretty windy,” he said. “Halfway down the gap was about the same and that gave me confidence, but the wheels were definitely coming off over the last 5 kilometers.
It was a banner day for team Lotto NL-Jumbo as Neilson Powless finished second on the stage and moved to second place in the overall standings. When the cyclists hit stage 3 (Antelope Island to Layton), everyone else will be gunning for the teammates, now 1-2 in the standings.
Powless, who said he was in awe of his Kuss while listening to his Director during the race, took a moment to comment on his teammate's brilliant ride.
“Sepp did incredible today and he’s definitely the strongest guy in the race right now,” Powless said.
Powless struggled to stay with the main group over the final climb but rejoined the chase group on the descent into Payson. Kuss and Powless and the rest of the team took a moment after the stage to celebrate the moment.
“I was incredibly happy and at a loss for words,” Powless said. “You don’t get to celebrate very often when you finish second but when your teammate finishes first then you come across the line next, I think that is about as special as it gets.”
BMC rider Tejay Van Garderen, who wore the yellow jersey Tuesday, sits in third place, four seconds behind Powless and 25 seconds from Kuss.
The defending champion, Rally Cycling’s Rob Britton, was dropped on the category 1 climb and sits in 18th place, 2 minutes behind Kuss. His Rally teammate, Kyle Murphy, rode brilliantly, grabbing third place in the stage and moving into fourth place overall, just 37 seconds behind Kuss.
Murphy hadn’t spoken with his Director about any upcoming strategies prior to the postrace interviews but he said not to forget about Rob Britton.
“It’s a pretty long race with some very difficult days ahead and I don’t think you can really ever count that guy out,” Murphy said. “It’s a really long race and he’s a complete monster.”
Two difficult climbing stages remain — Stage 5 Saturday to Snowbird and Stage 6 where the race finishes in Park City.
After three days, the top-10 riders are separated by just 40 seconds.
General Classification Standings:
- Sepp Kuss, Team Lotto NL-Jumbo
- Neilson Powless, Team Lotto NL-Jumbo 21”
- Tejay Van Garderen, BMC Racing 25”
- Kyle Murphy, Rally Cycling 37”
- Joseph Lloyd Dombrowski, EF-Drapac-Cannondale 38”
- Gavin Mannion, United Health Care 38”
- Hugh John Carthy, EF-Drapac-Cannondale 38”
- Michael Woods, EF-Drapac-Cannondale 39”
- Jack Haig, Mitchelton-Scott 40”
- Brent Bookwalter, BMC Racing 40”