MADRID — A decade later, the United States has a Grand Tour winner again.
Sepp Kuss won the Vuelta a España on Sunday to become the first American to win one of cycling's top races since Chris Horner was the Vuelta champion in 2013. The other Grand Tour events are the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France.
Kuss had effectively secured the victory ahead of Sunday's largely ceremonial stage, when rivals in the Spanish capital respected his lead and did not launch any attacks, per cycling tradition.
"It's incredible. I think today was the stage that I suffered the most of the whole race; now I'm just glad it's over," Kuss said. "It's life-changing for sure. I think I'll look back on this experience with a lot of fun memories. It's still sinking in. I think it's going to take quite some time. Now a big celebration. Family, friends are here, and that's going to be really special."
It was a surprising victory for Kuss, who entered the race in a supporting role to Jumbo-Visma teammates Jonas Vingegaard, who is the two-time reigning Tour de France champion, and Primoz Roglic, a three-time Vuelta winner.
Vingegaard and Roglic finished second and third overall, respectively, capping a dominant performance and a historic 2023 for Jumbo-Visma, which swept this year's Grand Tour titles. Roglic won the Giro d'Italia in May and Vingegaard repeated in France in July. Kuss crossed the line Sunday with his teammates, all wearing a special jersey in honor of Jumbo-Visma's sweep.
Kuss took the lead in the eighth stage and never relinquished it despite being pushed hard by his teammates a few times. The American held his own on difficult climbs up the Col du Tourmalet in France and the Alto de l'Angliru in northern Spain, ending the three-week race with a 17-second advantage.
The 29-year-old from Durango, Colorado, started cycling as a way to train all year for his passion of cross-country skiing. But he eventually traded the skis for wheels and has for several seasons featured as one of the top support riders for Jumbo-Visma. He now lives in Andorra with his wife in the Pyrenees Mountains nestled between Spain and France.
The final stage began at Madrid's horse-racing track and ended with riders taking laps around some of the iconic monuments in the Spanish capital. Alpecin-Deceuninck cyclist Kaden Groves prevailed in the final sprint to win the last stage.
Kuss took it easy within the peloton and was celebrated by his rivals and fans who lined Madrid's streets.
Last year's champion, Remco Evenepoel of Soudal Quick-Step, ended as King of the Mountains and became the first Belgian to win the Vuelta's most combative award. Groves became the first Australian to win the points standings, while 21-year-old Juan Ayuso of Spain was the best young rider.