By Bill Plock
October 25th, 2023–Two days after the parade in Durango for La Vuelta champion and hometown hero Sepp Kuss, a fan yelled “what would Sepp do” at Durango Devo Ellie Shaw as she raced in Glenwood Springs at the Colorado Cycling League Championship. She later joked after taking the victory for the JV division that she had no idea what he would do. The Durango high school team had his image draped from their tent and most of them were at his parade and then packed up to race in Glenwood.
The “Sepp effect” is real. During the celebration in Buckley Park, kids were chanting “Seppy Seppy Seppy”. An estimated 1,500 people rode a victory lap through downtown Durango led by Sepp as thousands lined the streets and cheered.
Ellen Babers, Durango’s Community Events Administrator was asked about the “Sepp Effect” on the town and said, “Sepp Kuss is an amazing athlete, and an outstanding person as well. His dedication to his role on the team, his humble response to becoming the GC, and his genuine friendliness are as exemplary as his athletic achievements. His success is already having a positive influence. You could see it on the faces of the hundreds of kids at the celebration, getting autographs, and riding in the parade. They believe that with enough work, they can be a champion, too! The whole community – biking and others – pulled together to create the Homecoming Celebration. That collaboration was a fun reminder that we are a great-sized town – big enough to foster champions and small enough to celebrate together.
When asked more specifically about programs and tourism, Ellen adds, “I think biking programs like Durango Devo will continue to produce lifelong cyclists and more champions. We are a natural destination for cyclists of all kinds. The publicity from Sepp will probably result in more visitors and hopefully increase participation in our bike races and rides, like the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, Colorado’s Ride, and the Durango Derby.
The genuineness of the celebration seemed to cast a net of familiarity like everyone there was part of a huge family. In a press event after the parade, Sepp talked about the emotions of the day saying, “It was more emotional than crossing the line in Madrid because there it was just a bunch of people, but here it’s all the people I care about.” And that caring could be felt both ways, especially with the kids in the Devo program.
When I asked Sepp to compare the emotions of winning something like the High School Championship with La Vuelta he said, “Whenever I could win a race at a Mountain States cup or the High School Championship, I always had the same feeling as winning the tour or a stage.”
Perhaps it’s his humility and being so grounded and his recognition of the gifts of growing up in Durango that make the “Sepp effect” so real and meaningful. His love of Durango and the engraved passion learned as a kid carried him through his three grand tours this season. The Durango Devo program has a slogan NFTF which means Never. Forget. That. Feeling.
Sepp was asked about what the NFTF means in relation to winning La Veulata and he responded, “When I won, I already forgot it, I remember the feeling of the adventures I had, pushing myself and my overall enjoyment of riding my bike.” He went on to elaborate on how he got through three grand tours in one season and he said, “The wholesome nature of enjoying every day on my bike made me never feel tired, or beat down or demotivated. It was the opposite because I was loving the bike, that’s the feeling I will never forget.”
People came from all over the country in this unique and once-in-a-generation type of event. It had been ten years since an American won a grand tour in Europe. Durango is home to many Olympians and champions and everywhere you go you see kids and adults riding bikes, running, kayaking, and just being outside. Sepp grew up just like so many kids in Durango and that sense of being one of them was truly felt.
He talked about growing up doing so many things, racing at high altitudes, skiing, and not starting his pro career too early like many of the pros today do. He sees that as an advantage in not burning out of the sport and his love of it is as strong as ever. His advice to kids wanting to pursue a career in cycling is to not overthink it and not take things so seriously. Have fun.
Well, if you saw the Durango kids racing last weekend, and listened to Ellie, I’d say the “Sepp Effect” is real.