ANDORRA, July 11 (Reuters) – American Sepp Kuss claimed his first Tour de France victory with a solo race in the 15th stage as defending champion Tadej Pogacar was barely disturbed during the hike in 191.3 km mountain from Céret to Andorra on Sunday.
The Jumbo-Visma rider came out on top in the breakaway of the day thanks to a fierce attack on the last climb before pushing Alejandro Valverde back on the descent to the finish, the veteran Spain taking second place 23 seconds behind.
Dutchman Wout Poels was third, 1:15 off pace before Pogacar and his main opponents crossed the 4:51 line behind Kuss.
“I’ve had a few wins, some memorable, but I never thought I’d win a Tour de France stage,” said Kuss, who already had a Vuelta stage victory to his name.
The 26-year-old gave his side their second Tour victory this year after their designated leader Primoz Roglic retired with injury following a fall.
Pogacar enters Monday’s rest day with a five-minute and 18-second lead over Colombian Rigoberto Uran with Dane’s Jonas Vingegaard, Kuss’ teammate, third at 14 seconds more.
Frenchman Guillaume Martin, who climbed to second place thanks to his presence in the breakaway on Saturday, was left behind in the descent from Port d’Envalira, at 2,408 meters the highest point of this year’s Tour.
He was unable to return to the field of contenders for the overall standings before the ascent of the Col de Beixalis (6.4 km at 8.5%), where Pogacar’s rivals tried to destabilize the Slovenian.
Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz was the first attacker, but he was easily overpowered by Pogacar, who also had little trouble keeping up with Uran and Vingegaard when they briefly jumped.
Further up the road, Kuss, one of the many professional riders to reside in Andorra, where they find ideal conditions for training at altitude and benefit from the principality’s low taxes, has set out solo on about two kilometers in the ascent of the Col de Beixalis.
Valverde suffered but climbed to the top, which he reached 20 seconds after Kuss.
In the tricky descent, Kuss, who was Roglic’s best lieutenant when the Slovenian finished second last year, made no mistakes to secure the biggest victory of his career.
Now Kuss will return to his duties as a servant, working for Vingegaard. “It’s good to have a day off tomorrow, to recuperate and relax. Now we are in week three and Jonas is super strong, ”he said.
“We can be very happy with the two stage wins and we can focus on Jonas. We still have to discuss tactics, but with the summit arrivals coming up, maybe we can take some risks. “
Report by Julien Pretot; Editing by Peter Graff, Christian Radnedge and Andrew Cawthorne
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