GC Kuss And His Winning Bikes
The Vuelta a España, or just The Vuelta for short, is the third of the three road cycling Grand Tours of the year and like the Tour De France and the Giro D’Italia, The Vuelta has 21 stages split over 3 weeks of racing. The overall winner of the general classification, or GC for short, is the rider with the lowest combined time over all the stages. While the Vuelta may not get as much coverage as the Tour De France, it is generally considered the hardest of the three Grand Tours. Many different factors combine to make this race an extremely difficult affair. The Vuelta stages are shorter on average than the other Grand Tours, but instead of making the race easier, it makes the teams and riders fight harder and become more fatigued after each stage. The short stages also provide more opportunity for breakaway efforts to actually succeed, which means the peloton sometimes has to work harder, even having to overcompensate to catch up.
Well known for being the hottest stage race of the season, the Vuelta regularly sees temperatures above 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Yeesh! Combined with the fact that many of the riders have been racing since February, this crazy heat definitely has the tendency to further break these racers down. The Vuelta also has a history of having the steepest climbs in any professional road race, and this year the course had no less than five different stages with 20% gradient or more in sections.
The combination of the heat, steep climbs, and some genuinely amazing Spanish scenery serve to create some very interesting racing and make the Vuelta super fun to watch. The 2023 edition was especially exciting, as this year Colorado native Sepp Kuss won the GC ( RAHHH MERICA 🦅🇺🇸 🦅🇺🇸 )! This makes him the first American to win a Grand Tour in 10 years (since Chris Horner's Vuelta win in 2013) and only the fourth American in history to win a Grand Tour.
The turning of stage six, and the winning weapon
If you were even casually following this year's Vuelta, you might have seen stage six, and the drama that came along with it. In addition to the Vuelta, Sepp Kuss finished both the Giro D' Italia and the Tour De France this year, riding in support of his Team Jumbo-Visma teammates Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard, towing them to respective victories in the Giro and Tour De France. Sepp has a strong track record as one of the peleton's premier "Super Domestiques" and up until stage six, he'd been dutifully plying his trade during the Vuelta.
Now by stage six of the Vuelta, Sepp had mainly been helping as Roglic's right hand man, but this day would be different. Near the middle of the stage, Sepp Kuss broke off from the group, going for the stage win. He did indeed win the stage, staying ahead of the breakaway all day, and coming across the line with a huge smile on his face. This was really awesome to see, and a win well deserved for Kuss. While the stage win didn't put him in the "Maillot Rojo", the race leader's distinctive red jersey, it got him close enough to take the overall lead from Lenny Martinez the next day. At this point in the race the GC win for Kuss was just a pipe dream, he was still focusing on supporting his teammate's bid for the overall victory. It wasn't until stage seventeen on the Angliru climb where we saw Vingegaard and Roglic drop him, but not take the jersey from Sepp that he was even considered as the Jumbo-Visma team leader.
For a big portion of the Vuelta, Sepp was gaining most of his time on the climbs. Bike weight is critical to keep that power-to-weight ratio at winning levels, especially for a climber. For this reason, Sepp chose to ride the Cervelo R5, their climbing bike. Weight and comfort were his priority, and that is reflected in his bike choices. But Sepp also seems to choose things differently than his teammates. For most of the Vuelta, Roglic and Vingegaard used a 1x drivetrain setup on their bikes, losing a little weight and gaining aerodynamic efficiency. But not Sepp. "CG Kuss" stayed on a 2x setup for every raced stage (I say raced because the Vuelta's final stage is more of a show). Also for reasons of weight, Sepp used a Garmin 130 computer head unit instead of the larger 540 and 840 units used by his teammates. Less functions on the 130, but half the size. He used this computer on around half of the stages.
Most of his teammates used the Vision one piece carbon bar/stem combo on their R5 builds, but not Sepp. He used a two piece traditional setup from FSA. Why, I’m not 100% sure. I doubt the two piece setup is any lighter, so if I had to guess why he opted to use it I'ld say it was for bike fit reasons that the one piece bar couldn't fill, or it could be that he prefers the shape of the bar.
Sepp's own way of doing things is also evident in his choice of riding the Cervelo R5 for almost every stage of the Vuelta, rather than swapping between the R5 and aero-optimized S5 like his teammates. This may show he has more of a preference for how the R5 rides.
Sepp's R5 used Vittoria Corsa PRO 28c tires for every stage, SRAM Red AXS 2x, Reserve 40/44 carbon wheels for most stages, FSA SL-K stem and K-Force carbon bar combo, and a Fizik Antares 00 saddle. On most stages, Sepp ran a SRAM Red one piece power meter with a 52/39 tooth combo, but upped it to 54/41 on the flatter stages. This setup (size 54) with the Garmin 130, the 52/39 tooth combo, and the two piece cockpit weighed 15.3 lbs, including pedals. Astounding! For accessories besides the computer, he used Speedplay Zero pedals, and Tacx carbon bottle cages. All of the R5’s he rode also featured SRAM Ceramic DUB Bottom brackets.
When Jumbo-Visma has winners in any tour, for the last stage they usually make them a commetorive bike for the last stage as a prize. For this tour Cervelo had a custom painted red Cervelo S5 for the last stage as a tribute. This bike featured yellow/pink/red stripes and color accents to pay tribute to Sepp’s fellow teammates on the Jumbo team who all won a Grand Tour in 2023. Jonas with the Tour De France win, (yellow), Primoz Roglic’s Giro win, (pink) and Sepp’s final Vuelta win (red). These colors are also on the fork and wheel decals.This bike has a full component host from SRAM, featuring SRAM RED AXS 1x. This is the only bike Sepp rode during the Vuelta on 1x, very possibly not by choice, but simply because that's how Cervelo built this special tribute bike. I would think with his choice of 2x on every other bike in the Vuleta, 2x is his go-to.
For the drivetrain on this unique S5 a 52T SRAM power meter aero chainring propels Sepp forward, paired with a 10-33 SRAM cassette. A chain catcher provided by WolfTooth, custom made for Jumbos’ S5 bikes when running 1x, keeps things in line and the drivetrain is topped off with custom red colored on the brake levers. Wheels are provided by Reserve, Cervelo’s sister wheel manufacturer. Laced to DT180 EXP hubs (my all time favorite hub ;) ) and mounted with Vittoria Corsa PRO’s in 28c, tubeless. This bike is the epitome of speed, and a grateful tribute to the American winner.
Sepp's teammates did seem to pay attention to what he was running when he chose to run a 2x setup in the second half of the Vuelta. Roglic and Vingegaard used 1x SRAM XPLR on the Angliru, but the following stage they also ran 2x along with Sepp. I also noticed for some reason that FSA had all the Jumbo riders put FSA stickers prominently on their bar tape, something I've never seen another sponsor do. Also seen (either in this Vuelta or the Tour De France, I can't remember) Jonas Vingegaard also had a custom SRAM Red 10-36T cassette made for him. (SRAM Red normally only goes to 33T).