Could I Get the Wi-Fi Password? My Son Might Win the Race of a Lifetime

Could I Get the Wi-Fi Password? My Son Might Win the Race of a Lifetime
Could I Get the Wi-Fi Password? My Son Might Win the Race of a Lifetime


Behind the success of cyclist Sepp Kuss is an adventurous mother who taught him how to ride –and followed much of her son’s historic victory on her phone while on an epic mountain hike.

Sabina Kuss never missed her son Sepp’s bike races. Often, this meant waking up in the early a.m. darkness at her home in Durango, Colo., and turning on the TV, where she and Sepp’s father, Dolph, would sit for hours, watching their son compete in dramatic races like the Tour de France.

Sometimes, when a TV camera found Sepp riding up a mountain, Sabina would go to the screen and pretend to nudge her son up the climb.

“I’d push his bottom up the hill," Sabina Kuss told me the other day. “It was hard to not reach out and touch him, especially when I could see his face."

A talented cyclist herself, Sabina was the one who had gotten Sepp on a bike as a child, and she tried to watch every minute of his racing–until this past month, when Sepp’s team, Jumbo-Visma, asked him to ride in the Vuelta a Espana, the last of cycling’s three annual “Grand Tours."

Sabina Kuss had a conflict, right in the middle of the race: She had arranged to go on an epic 14-day trek with friends through the Dolomite mountains in Italy. The trek, Alta Via 2, is no polite trail hike. Backpackers spend double-digit days traversing the mountains, often on demanding, rocky trails, staying at night in huts called rifugios. Access to the outside world is minimal. Wi-Fi can be hard to find.

Sabina figured it would work out OK. Before the trek began, she got to Spain and saw Sepp race two early stages. Sepp’s job at the three-week Vuelta appeared to be the usual: help a teammate win. At 29, Sepp Kuss was one of the best “super domestiques" in cycling–a support rider talented enough to win occasional stages, but largely paid to pace and protect star teammates during grueling, long events.

Jumbo-Visma had taken two favorites to the Vuelta: Primož Roglič, a three-time Vuelta winner who in May captured the Giro d’Italia, and Jonas Vingegaard, who in July had won his second consecutive Tour de France. Each time, Sepp was at their side.

The Jumbo squad was chasing a sweep of the three Grand Tours, which no team had ever done. Sepp, who was also on his third Grand Tour of the season, would help his teammates get there. Sabina Kuss said goodbye to her son, and went off into the jagged Italian mountains.

It was on her second day in the Dolomites that Sabina realized this bike race she left behind was getting interesting. She and her hike companions, Janna Erickson and Emily Deitz, both from Colorado, had arrived at their mountainside rifugio for the night when Sabina was able to locate a Wi-Fi signal.

“Her phone just blew up," Janna said.

Sepp had won that day’s Vuelta stage in a breakaway, a victory that put him just eight seconds back of the overall race leader. (In a Grand Tour, the winner assembles the fastest aggregate time over the three weeks.)

Two days later, Sepp grabbed more time, and captured the Vuelta’s red jersey as the race leader. He had won big races before–he had taken a stage of the Tour de France in 2021–but he’d never been the leader of one of the three Grand Tours.

“I just couldn’t believe it," Sabina said. “It was thrilling."

She felt conflicted. All this was happening, and she was far away, in another country, deep into a trek. It wasn’t like they could pile into a cab and hit a sports bar.

“I felt bad," said Erickson. “I said, ‘Oh, Sabina, I feel so bad that I invited you on this trip. You could have been there!’ And she’s just, ‘Oh, no, no, no–I made the decision.’ She was really easy-going about it.’"

This is a Kuss family trait. Within cycling, Sepp Kuss is admired for his talent, but also for his unflappable attitude. Cycling is a stressful, hazardous sport, but even on mountain finishes, Sepp could be spotted on his bike, smiling. At least that’s what Dolph Kuss thought.

“He has so much fun riding that bicycle," Dolph told me. “I would tell Sabina, ‘Look, Sepp is going to finish and he’s smiling.’ She’d say no–he’s gritting his teeth."

Sepp had been raised adventurously. Dolph, a Durango legend, is a giant in U.S. skiing, a former Olympic and college ski coach. Young Sepp skied both Alpine and Nordic. He also played hockey, too, which became his favorite. “He was a beautiful hockey player—he had that really light natural [skating] ability," Sabina said.

Cycling began at an early age, on trails outside their home, Sepp chasing after his mother, a regular podium finisher at mountain bike races like the Iron Horse Classic. “Sepp didn’t view things in a competitive way," Sabina said. “He viewed them as, ‘Oh, wow, that’s going to be really fun.’ He has not changed in that."

After a while, Sepp would begin keeping up with his mother on rides, and even start pedaling ahead. Eventually, Sepp would bring along a book to read while he waited for his mom to complete a long descent.

“I didn’t want him waiting for me," Sabina said. “But he always said, ‘No mom, I like to ride with you. I don’t mind waiting.’ That’s how he is. He never minded."

As they continued in the Dolomites, Sabina and her friends kept to a routine: They would hike for hours, and then, at day’s end, they would try to find a Wi-Fi connection to find out how Sepp was doing.

“It really added a fun element to the hike," Janna said.

Sabina checked updates on a Vuelta app, and got details from Sepp’s wife, the Spanish cyclist Noemi Ferré. She also heard from Dolph, watching in Durango. Sabina was delighted as Sepp hung onto the leader’s red jersey for a few days, but she expected his lead to eventually vanish, and he’d return to his normal role as super-domestique assistant to his teammates.

“She was so chill," said Emily Deitz. “She was like, ‘He’s going to go back to being support.’"

A time-trial stage became a critical moment. These individual races against the clock–with the funny helmets and aerodynamic bikes–are not Sepp’s specialty. But he raced the time trial of his life, finishing 13th of 160 finishers, and holding on to the overall lead.

A whisper began to breathe into real chatter: Could Sepp Kuss actually win the Vuelta a Espana?

It would be an enormous accomplishment. An American hadn’t won a Grand Tour in a decade. Kuss would be a heartwarming story: a loyal support rider finally allowed to go on his own and win on the biggest stage.

On the trek, Sabina and her friends discussed the possibility. “She would say stuff like, ‘He’s going to be fine with it either way,’" Emily recalled.

As cycling fans know, the 2023 Vuelta turned out to be much more dramatic. In the race’s final week, with Jumbo-Visma in control of the race, and Kuss still in the leader’s red jersey, both Vingegaard and Roglič would win stages, taking time out of Kuss’s overall lead. Bike Internet went crazy: Was Kuss being undermined? Would his superstar teammates return the favor for all of Kuss’s loyal years of service–or would they try to win the Vuelta themselves?

It wasn’t why she did it, but Sabina thinks it may have been wise to be in the beautiful mountains, missing all that constant drama.

“Dolph said, ‘It’s a good thing you didn’t watch this every day–it’s been really intense,’" Sabina said. “I think it would’ve been really hard. I would’ve been more exhausted than I am now."

Sabina Kuss managed to leave her hike in Dolomites in time to see Sepp clinch the Vuelta and ride victoriously into Madrid. Jumbo-Visma squashed the soap opera, Roglic and Vingegaard helped Sepp to seal the overall title, and the team celebrated a historic third consecutive Grand Tour triumph.

For Sepp Kuss, it felt like a dream–to win a race he long adored, and prove he could compete with the best in the sport. When we spoke this week, he was still processing what it all meant, and his future.

“It’s still going to take a while to figure out where I want to take this," Sepp told me. “I realize how unique and beautiful an opportunity this was."

“No matter what happens in my career, I’m always going to be proud and remember this race," he continued. “It doesn’t necessarily make me hungry for more–or for better. It just proves to me that I am capable of doing it. I think I can go forward now with more confidence, and more tranquility as well, knowing that I’ve achieved something really beautiful."

These three weeks had been a blur. I asked Kuss if he remembered talking or texting with his mother when she was hiking in the mountains. He said he couldn’t remember. Leading the race had been mentally draining.

“But I knew she was always with me in spirit," he said. “She was the one who got me on a bike. She was always my biggest riding companion and best friend. It was a really special way to grow up…she was always there."

Mom, meanwhile, wants to see all the excitement she missed while she was off the grid.

“It’s not going to sink in for me until I watch the replays," Sabina Kuss said.

The 2023 Vuelta a Espana champion agreed.

“She has a lot of catching up to do," said Sepp Kuss.

Write to Jason Gay at

Could I Get the Wi-Fi Password? My Son Might Win the Race of a Lifetime
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Could I Get the Wi-Fi Password? My Son Might Win the Race of a Lifetime
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