Sergio Higuita (EF Education First) took his first WorldTour win at the Vuelta a España today after making the early escape on the 177-kilometre 18th stage which featured four category one climbs. Higuita had gone clear on Puerto de Cotos, the second of the four climbs, with a group of six riders.
Wout Poels (Ineos) was the lone leader at the time, and, after Higuita’s group had linked up to Poels, more riders bridged across, making it a baker’s dozen up front. The group of 13 had five minutes over a reduced peloton on the third climb, the Puerto de la Morcuera.
Higuita launched his race-winning attack over the top, 52 kilometers from the finish, with EF Education First directeur sportif Juanma Garate in his ear, urging him forward.
“I asked him to go,” said Garate. “It was the only chance we had. Go back, breathe, then go. Right after the top, he had to go. He did it. He dropped everyone. It was so cool.”
Gap gained, Higuita next had to hold off his chasers – the breakaway riders and the general contenders who were throwing attacks in his wake.
“I had to maintain a high rhythm because the big favourites were fighting behind me,” said Higuita. “My director told me I could keep an advantage over them. I had to ride with my heart until the last five kilometres, to handle the pain because this team needed this victory in this moment.”
Higuita hit the five kilometre marker with a 34-second advantage and the red jersey leading the chase. Higuita didn’t dare look over his shoulders until he had the finish line in sight, and when he saw the clear road behind him, he smiled broadly and threw his hands in the air to celebrate across the finish line.
“It’s a dream to be at the Vuelta, riding a Grand Tour,” said Higuita. “And now, winning a stage, it’s very important. It’s the biggest win of my sporting career.”
“To win one stage in a big Tour, it is really special,” Garate said. “Especially when you are 22-years-old, especially when everyone is talking about you and what you can do in the future. He’s a big guy even if he’s really small.”
“During this Vuelta, I learned to never give up. After the bad moments that you have during a Grand Tour, each day is a new day and any day you can finish with a victory,” Higuita added. “I showed resiliency because yesterday I had a very, very difficult day and today I won the stage. I took it as it came and turned a bad situation into a good one.”