ALTU DE L'ANGLIRU, Spain (AP) — Sepp Kuss got to keep the leader's red jersey in the Spanish Vuelta as his birthday gift.
Celebrating his 29th birthday, the American held on to the overall lead despite finishing behind Jumbo-Visma teammates Jonas Vingegaard and Primoz Roglic after a difficult climb on Wednesday.
“When I crossed the finish line, I thought I had lost the jersey. And I wasn’t even sad because I gave it the best I could on the climb," Kuss said. "When I heard I still had the jersey, I was a bit surprised. Strange feelings today, but not in a bad way. It was a very happy birthday, spending it doing what I enjoy most.”
Roglic picked up his second stage win after he and Vingegaard dropped Kuss near the end of the 124.5-kilometer (77.3-mile) route that finished through the fog atop the Altu de L’Angliru summit in a classic Vuelta ascent.
Kuss was able to stay close enough to finish third, 19 seconds behind his teammates. His overall lead dropped to eight seconds ahead of Vingegaard, with Roglic more than a minute behind entering the final stages.
Kuss said he was not bothered by Roglic breaking away along with Vingegaard near the end.
“Another day with my two strong teammates, my friends as well,” he said. “I think we had as good as a time you can racing up the Angliru and it was just a crazy day. One day closer.”
Kuss is trying to become the first American to win a Grand Tour event since Chris Horner won the Vuelta in 2013. The 29-year-old Kuss entered the race in Spain as a support rider for Roglic and Vingegaard, but took the lead on Stage 8 and has yet to relinquish it.
Roglic is looking to win a record-tying fourth Vuelta title, while Vingegaard is coming off a successful title defense in the Tour de France.
“I did my own tempo and the climb made the difference,” Roglic said. "I went for it and I did my own pace until the top. I spoke with Kuss. I know it’s a weird feeling but on such a steep climb, everyone goes as fast as possible and then we see. I told him, ‘keep fighting, keep believing and you will make it.’”
Jumbo-Visma is trying to sweep all three Grand Tour races this year, with Roglic having won the Giro d’Italia and Vingegaard the Tour de France.
On Thursday, riders face a 179-kilometer (111-mile) stage that includes an unprecedented mountain pass with two ascents at Cruz de Linares.
The three-week race ends Sunday in Madrid.
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