After a Vuelta a España dominated by reports of drama and internecine conflict within Jumbo-Visma – a nascent civil war brought to a somewhat amicable conclusion in recent days after Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglič eventually agreed to shepherd their loyal domestique Sepp Kuss to his first grand tour victory – attention finally turned this weekend to another tricky subject the Dutch squad has been forced to navigate during its relentless domination of this year’s grand tours: Doping.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday evening, Kuss – who, following stage 20 in the sierras around Madrid, is all but confirmed as the first American to win a grand tour in ten years, and only the second American ever to win the Vuelta, after Chris Horner in 2013 – insisted that “cheating or doping is just out of the question” and that accepting that “sometimes you’re not good enough” is a fundamental part of sport.
Meanwhile Vingegaard, set to finish second behind his teammate Kuss on GC, claimed that he is “100 percent sure” that he and his teammates are “not taking anything” – though the Dane did acknowledge that scepticism and questions should be accepted by the sport’s leading riders as a consequence of cycling’s murky history.
The duo’s comments on one of cycling’s eternal debates come as their Jumbo-Visma team appear on the verge of making history at a Vuelta where they simply appeared a level above the rest.
By filling all three top spots on GC, courtesy of Kuss, Vingegaard, and Roglič, they will become the first team since Kas at the 1966 Vuelta to manage a clean sweep of the podium at a grand tour, while also becoming only the third team since then to achieve such a feat at any major stage race.
With Kuss now adding to Roglič’s last-gasp Giro d’Italia win and Vingegaard’s second consecutive Tour de France triumph, the Dutch squad is also set to become the first men’s team in history to win all three Grand Tours in a single season.
However, despite (or perhaps because of) their unyielding dominance, suspicions and innuendo continue to swirl around Jumbo-Visma – the successor to the scandal-ridden Rabobank outfit – with Vingegaard forced to assert at this year’s Tour de France that he doesn’t “take anything I wouldn’t give to my daughter” following his crushingly impressive performance during the decisive mid-race time trial.
Last month, just over a week before the Vuelta began in a wet and gloomy Barcelona, Jumbo-Visma announced that their German rider Michel Hessmann had been suspended by the team after returning an out-of-competition positive test for a banned diuretic. German authorities have since opened a criminal investigation into the 22-year-old, who supported Roglič’s Giro-winning bid in May, and conducted a raid on his home.
Meanwhile, retired pro and former team manager Jérôme Pineau added yet more fuel to the fire in the wake of the team’s 1-2-3 atop the Col du Tourmalet at the end of the race’s second week, accusing the squad of motor doping – an unsubstantiated allegation scathingly dismissed by Jumbo-Visma’s management.
When asked for his stance on doping by the media yesterday, Vuelta winner in waiting Kuss insisted that, despite the rumours and positive tests for teammates, Jumbo-Visma’s dominance at the Vuelta was achieved using clean methods.
“I think for me personally, cheating or doping is just out of the question because it’s not even sports for me then,” the 29-year-old American said.
“Part of sports is losing, and of course you want to win but if you’re doing something that’s prohibited or cheating then you’re afraid of losing, which I think is one of the most important things about sports: accepting that sometimes you’re not good enough. That’s just how it is.”
Sitting beside Kuss at the press conference in Guadarrama, second-placed Vingegaard – like he did at the Tour – acknowledged that scepticism should be accepted as part and parcel of a sport so intrinsically associated with decades of doping scandals, but claimed that he was “100 percent sure” that history would not repeat itself at Jumbo-Visma.
“For sure we understand the scepticism that there is, but people also need to know how much we sacrifice for everything and how much we do everything in detail,” the Dane said.
“We go into every detail to be as good as possible. I think that especially in this team, we do everything perfectly and it makes such a big difference, and I don’t think that people realise how much of a difference it makes.
“I think it’s always good to be sceptical, especially when a team is doing well, as long as it’s not allegations and as long as we speak about it, because of what happened 20 years ago, then I think that will prevent it happening again.
“I’m 100 per cent sure that my two colleagues are not taking anything as well as myself.”
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.