A Stage 16 ride through the mountains of France on Bastille Day awaited Durango’s Sepp Kuss in 2020. His shot at glory in his first Tour de France will have to wait, though.
It was announced Tuesday the 107th Tour de France scheduled to start June 27 in the French Riviera and end July 19 in Paris would be postponed until a later date – likely in late August with a September finish – because of the new coronavirus pandemic.
The decision made by France’s President Emmanuel Macron on Monday night to extend a ban on all large public gatherings until at least mid-July forced the world’s most iconic cycling event to reschedule. Kuss, who was named to the Team Jumbo-Visma roster for the 2020 Tour de France for the first time in his young WorldTour career, received the news from Spain, where he has been under lockdown for weeks.
“With the situation going on in Europe, it’s really not surprising,” the 25-year-old from Durango said. “Everything here is totally shut down and you can see the gravity of the situation, and you also feel that it’s not the time for sports, really. Hopefully, we can have the Tour at a later date in the summer or fall, but at this point, we really don’t know.”
The Tour de France brings more attention to cycling than any other event, including the other three-week Grand Tours – the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España.
Durango WorldTour rookie Quinn Simmons, who competes for the Trek-Segafredo team, said it would be pivotal for the Tour de France to race in 2020 or else teams would be met with a serious financial predicament. Kuss, too, recognizes the importance of the Tour de France to the sport and its athletes.
“For cycling as a whole, we definitely need the Tour,” Kuss said. “The way cycling is set up, the model of the teams and the stability of the sport pretty much rests on sponsors. Without the big revenue-generating events in terms of TV exposure like the Tour brings, it’s not good for the sponsors or the cyclists. Whatever we can do as a sport to make the Tour de France happen is pretty crucial for a lot of teams and sponsors.”
Kuss said he was thankful one of his team’s top sponsors, Jumbo, is one of the world’s largest supermarket companies. But other teams have already struggled for funding and have sent athletes to government pay assistance programs because of the cancellation of spring and summer races. More events are added to the list of postponements weekly. With so many races already pushed to the fall, many smaller events won’t be able to find calendar space to conduct races in 2020.
Disgraced former American pro cyclist Lance Armstrong, who won seven Tour de France titles but was eventually stripped of his victories because of doping, called on pro cyclists to form a stronger union this week in his Instagram podcast.
“Now is the chance to start from scratch, get a seat at the negotiating table and take back power,” Armstrong said on “The Move” podcast. “If you don’t seize this opportunity now, you may never get it again. ... Talk to each other as a platoon and unite. You are the actors in the play, and without the actors, the play is canceled.”
Kuss said Armstrong made some good points.
“Now more than ever, we see the structure that cycling is built on. In an ideal world, it works. But, as you see now, it’s almost entirely dependent on all these different sponsors,” Kuss said. “There is no revenue sharing like other franchise sports. There’s not a strong union. It would be unheard of for there to be a lockout or something in cycling where people stand up for their salaries or something like that. In a way, we have to have low points to realize what needs to change. It’s such a grave situation, and too much hangs in the balance.
“There does need to be a stronger union. We have a union, if you could call it that, but we pay a portion of our salary into that union. They don’t seem to have the political power, more or less, to even help us when it comes to having some sort of post-career safety net or a safety net if something goes wrong like the situation we have now. You see what shaky ground everything is built on.”
Kuss came off a sparkling 2019 season in which he won his first stage at a Grand Tour with a Stage 15 climb at the Spanish Vuelta. He was named to his team’s roster for the Tour de France in December after a route revealed plenty of climbing, which is Kuss’ specialty. Kuss also is a close support rider for Slovenian teammate Primož Roglic, last year’s Vuelta winner and third-place finisher at the Giro. In 2020, Roglic and Kuss were set to build up to the Tour de France.
“It’s a bummer, for sure,” Kuss said. “But when you realize how much of a global situation it is and myself being in the privileged position with a roof over my head, still employed and here in Spain with good company, not being able to race or go outside to ride my bike is not bad in the scope of everything going on. Everyone is in this together. COVID-19 is a huge issue for everyone in the world. Sports come secondary to what is going on.
“For me, racing is a small part of what I enjoy about riding my bike. It’s a shame, but it’s not the end of the world.”
Late Tuesday, newspapers in France began to report the new dates for the 2020 Tour de France would be Aug. 29 through Sept. 20.
“Given that it’s now impossible that the Tour starts at its planned date, we are consulting with the (International Cycling Union) to try and find new dates,” Tour de France organizer Amaury Sport Organisation said earlier Tuesday.
The 2020 Spanish Vuelta is scheduled for Aug. 14 through Sept. 6. The Giro had already been postponed from its May dates and now could push into October.
Kuss said he believes teams could support both the Vuelta and Tour de France during overlapping dates.
“A lot of riders are going to be willing and eager to race,” Kuss said. “Numbers wouldn’t be a problem for staff and riders for those races. But the stakeholders and sponsors of those races may not want to share the limelight with other races or organizations. I think it depends on if people are willing to unify or not.
“The actors and stakeholders in cycling at times have different interests. At the end of the day, everyone realizes the Tour is the pinnacle race that cycling needs to rest on. I think they will sacrifice, if they have to, everything for the Tour.”
Kuss, like thousands of other cyclists, is unable to train outside or go for group rides with his team. In real life, that is.
Zwift indoor cycling has become the venue during lockdowns and stay-at-home orders related to the pandemic. Athletes are able to use an indoor trainer that can translate their movements into the virtual world.
The Tour of Flanders in Belgium staged a Zwift version of the race on April 5. Other events have joined the eRace movement, and many top pros have turned to virtual races to stay fit. Kuss and Simmons as well as Fort Lewis College cyclist Charlotte Backus have taken part in team rides and races through Zwift, and mountain bike and gravel star Payson McElveen of Durango has held group rides through the app. Zwift has become so popular that the online store is experiencing delays with orders because of increased demand.
Kuss won one of his team’s races. He will host a group ride through Team Jumbo-Visma on Zwift at 11:30 a.m. Thursday.
“I can’t go outside here in Spain. Ever since we started the full lockdown, I’ve started on Zwift,” Kuss said. “It’s been pretty fun and makes the rides go by a bit faster. I’ve usually never been able to do more than 90 minutes on the trainer or consecutive days on the trainer. Now, here I am Week 4 of riding inside.”
Kuss has enjoyed riding real-world courses through Zwift, from Innsbruck, Austria, the site of the 2018 world championships, to the time trial opening stage of the 2019 Giro.
“They are identical. It’s crazy,” Kuss said. “The buildings look the same, the climb feels the same, the cobblestone sections feel the same. It’s pretty cool. Every Saturday, we have done a team race to have some friendly banter within the guys. You get a great workout in. Some of the guys on the team are in Belgium or Holland where you can still ride outside, but a lot of us can’t go outside. It’s nice to have some solidarity with the team and get everyone to ride together or do these group rides for the fans.”
This Saturday’s Jumbo-Visma ride on Zwift will be broadcast on the Eurosport television network. Kuss also plans to take part in a Tour de Suisse Zwift race April 24 that will be broadcast in Europe.
While Kuss said that makes for good fun and a great workout, he is getting a bit stir crazy being stuck indoors in Spain.
“It makes you even hungrier for fresh air,” he said. “If you need to go to the grocery store or anything, you have to provide documentation, go through a police check, wear rubber gloves and a facemask. They douse you down with rubbing alcohol, and then you can start staging into the grocery store. It’s a very real situation, pretty full on over here.
“They are digging deep into the soccer reruns. At some point, all of the Instagram home fitness workouts will dry up and people will start to truly go stir crazy. At this point, I’m here for the long haul. Where I am right now, there’s no possibility of movement. I’m here, staying optimistic everything opens up and we have more of a normal life coming.”