Colombian rising star Sergio Higuita has made the mid-season switch to EF Education First from the Continental ranks.
The 21-year-old climber has attracted plenty of attention from the WorldTour, with multiple teams chasing him for a contract.
But Higuita has opted to ride for Jonathan Vaughters’ US outfit Education First, where he will debut at the Tour of California on Sunday (May 12).
Team boss Vaughters said: “Sergio is quite an exceptional talent.
“He’s rarely been off the podium in any race that has an uphill section. We’re pretty excited the UCI allowed us to bring him on board a little early this year.”
Higuita, from Medellín, appeared on Vaughters’ radar after the 2018 Tour of Colombia where he won a stage, took the youth classification and finished fifth overall.
He had ridden for Colombian Professional Continental team Manzana Postobon from 2016, but moved to the Fundación Euskadi Contintental team at the start of 2019 to prepare him for European racing as part of the switch to Education First.
This season, Higuita finished sixth, fourth and 12th in Challenge Mallorca races, won the best young rider jersey in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, finished seventh overall at the Vuelta a Andalucia and also took third at the GP Miguel Indurain.
His transfer to Education First had been planned for June, but the strength of his results prompted the team to bump him up earlier.
Higuita entered his first bike race at five years old and was offered a contract with Manzana Postobon at 17.
He said: “I don’t really have the words to explain my happiness, but now I have to keep going.
“It was hard to get here, but it will be even harder to stay here.
“I am so excited to debut at the Tour of California. I’m looking forward to working for guys like Rigoberto Uran and Tejay van Garderen.
“I looked up to them when I was younger. To be able to ride alongside them is a big motivation for me to give my best.”