Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a España stage 18: Higuita takes solo win as Roglic defends

Sergio Higuita salvaged EF's Vuelta a Espana by winning stage 18 in Becerril de la Sierra. Roglic defended his lead.

Sergio Higuita salvaged EF Education First‘s Vuelta a España by winning Thursday’s stage 18 into Becerril de la Sierra.

The Colombian Higuita, 22, crossed the line solo just 15 seconds ahead of the diminished group of leaders containing Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), Alejandro Valverde (Team Movistar), and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), among others. The dramatic finish came after a long drag to the line that saw Higuita’s advantage dwindle under the pressure of the GC group.

“In the end I had more heart than legs. I was really suffering,” Higuita said. “The Colombian fans lining the road gave me an extra kick. I’m so happy to win this stage to pay back everyone that believed in me.”

The victory marked a bright moment for EF Education First amid an otherwise disastrous Vuelta. The American squad came into the race with two GC threats in Tejay van Garderen and Rigoberto Uran, and a stage hunter in Hugh Carthy.

All three men abandoned the race after crashing hard during the sixth stage. Since then, EF riders Higuita and Lawson Craddock have been regulars in the breakaways.

“This is a great victory for our team because we truly had a hard Vuelta,” Higuita said at the line.

Higuita’s small gap at the line came after a 50-kilometer solo escape, which Higuita launched at the tail end of the mountainous 175.8 kilometer stage. Higuita was part of the sizable breakaway that attacked early in the mountainous stage. Present in the group were Ben King and Louis Meintjes (both Dimension Data), Nelson Oliveira (Movistar), Omar Fraile (Astana), and Neilson Powless (Jumbo-Visma), among other riders.

“I woke up with good legs,” Higuita said. “I thought I had two chances to win. One was to ride with the GC favorites and try to sprint away from them. The other was to get into the break. I decided to get into the breakaway and risk everything.”

Higuita survived the opening three of four category climbs with the group.

He then opened a gap on the descent of the penultimate climb, the Puerto de la Morcuera, and stretched his advantage into the final climb of the day, the Puerto de Cotos.

As the group of GC favorites steadily pulled back the breakaway riders on the Puerto de Cotos, Higuita churned out a steady temp on the climb, crossing the summit with a 40-second advantage on Roglic and Valverde.

“I had strong legs on the final climb,” Higuita said. “Looking at my power I thought that I would have enough to make it last until the end. The last 5 kilometers seemed like they lasted forever.”

Behind, the GC group exploded amid a flurry of attacks, with accelerations from Lopez, Valverde, and Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) gradually whittling down the group. Roglic countered the moves, and accelerated into the front group.

Other GC were dropped, including Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates), Nairo Quintana (Team Movistar), and Carl Fredrik Hagen (Lotto-Soudal).

Roglic crossed the line 1:01 ahead of Quintana and Pogačar, reshuffling the battle for the overall. Quintana fell to third place overall and Pogačar fell to fifth.

At the finish, Pogačar admitted his disappointment in losing the group and, perhaps, a chance to stand on the Vuelta’s final podium in Madrid.

“I did everything I could to stay with the front group today,” Pogačar said. “I did everything I could, maybe it was just a bad day. Saturday will be another decisive day for the GC.”