Sepp Kuss won a ferocious sixth stage of the Vuelta a Espana on a superb day for the Jumbo-Visma team as defending champion Remco Evenepoel surrendered the red jersey on Thursday.
Kuss attacked from a sizeable lead group on the brutal climb to the Observatorio Astrofisico de Javalambre at the end of the 183km ride from La Vall D’Aixo and blasted to victory.
Lenny Martinez (Groupama-FDJ) finished 26 seconds behind Kuss in second place to move into the leader’s jersey with compatriot Romain Bardet (Team DSM-Firmenich) third.
Back down the road, Jumbo Visma’s race favourites Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard took the chance to attack Evenepoel on the steep final slopes, finishing 30 seconds ahead of the Belgian who had to dig deep to limit his losses.
Evenepoel (Soudal Quick Step) had said he would be happy to give up the red jersey on the stage for tactical reasons, but what he did not want to do was lose significant time to his main GC rivals.
In an unpredictable stage, a huge breakaway group formed featuring multiple riders from the powerhouse teams with several close enough on the overall standings to challenge for the red jersey.
The race splintered on the 11.9km climb to the finish featuring gradients of up to 16%, but Kuss roared towards the summit to grab a victory that took the limelight away from his Jumbo Visma team mates Roglic and Vingegaard who finished nearly three minutes in arrears.
“It was an incredibly hard stage. We wanted to try to go in the breakaway just to test Quick Step and we knew it would be a hard day to control,” Kuss said.
“The whole day I felt super, super good, I was only thinking about when to go and when to try to make the difference.”
Evenepoel has dropped to ninth, two minutes 47 seconds behind Martinez but of more concern will be that he now leads Tour de France winner Vingegaard by only five seconds and Giro d’Italia winner Roglic by 11 seconds with massive mountain days ahead over the remaining two weeks.
“If this was a bad day then it’s okay,” Evenepoel said. “I started to feel a bit heavy-legged but let’s hope this is one of the worst days for me.
“The good thing is that I could speed up in the last two kilometres and I still had something left in the last 500m.”
Friday’s seventh stage will be one for the sprinters with a largely flat 201km route from Utiel passing through Valencia before heading down the coast to Oliva.
😏⛰️ ¿Ya os habéis recuperado del ETAPÓN? ¡Revive los mejores momentos de la etapa 6⃣ en 1 minuto!
— La Vuelta (@lavuelta) August 31, 2023