EF Education First's Sergio Higuita pulled off a memorable victory at the 2019 Vuelta a España as he survived from the day's break and held off some of the strongest riders in the WorldTour to claim his maiden professional win.
Riding his first Grand Tour for his new American top tier cycling team, Higuita could have hardly hoped for more in 2019, having previously come a close runner-up to Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates) at the Tour of California and finishing 14 seconds off winner Pavel Sivakov (Ineos) at the Tour of Poland.
The 22-year-old from Medellín, Colombia, knew he had to give something more than he had previously when he found himself alone with 50km to the finish line on stage 18. On the penultimate descent he managed to extend his gap to over a minute, taking out another 30 seconds on the final climb before Miguel Ángel López (Astana) attacked the GC group, forcing an increase in the pace.
Higuita's sports director, Juanma Garate, initiated the Colombian's attack, informing him the GC group was fast approaching, the climber told Spanish newspaper AS (opens in new tab).
"I knew [the GC group] were cutting me off, but they encouraged me from the car to give everything because if I crowned [the summit] with 40 seconds, I could reach the finish line," Higuita said.
Crucially, Higuita took a 47 second advantage over the summit, eventually crossing the line 15 seconds ahead of race leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), whose grip on the red jersey was again tested. but the Slovenian held strong once more.
However, Higuita didn't leave anything to chance, saying the downhill to Becerril de la Sierra was the riskiest descent he'd raced in his life. "I was very focused. It was the descent in which I have risked most in my life. It was very fast, it also helped that the road was in good condition and was wide."
The Colombian revealed that when he started riding at his local velodrome, his coach didn't care so much about his performances, but taught him how to go fast.
"I am not a very big rider and I needed to look for the best aerodynamic position," Higuita said. "It is a bit risky, but professionals can do it because we train to do it, we know what the route is like. Yes, I looked at the speed from time to time and saw how I was going 80km/h, 85 km/h, even surpassed it."
Higuita's stage win is EF Education First's only victory so far at this year's Spanish Grand Tour, and the young rider will be hoping it is the first of many in his career, revealing that his team leader and compatriot Rigoberto Urán, told him he would win a stage at the 2019 Vuelta.
"I will never forget this victory. It is the first Grand Tour I've ridden and to be able to win and give the team a victory is very special. I will call Rigoberto Urán at the hospital to thank him, he always told me that I would win a stage here."
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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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