Finally after all the fireworks and drama of stage six of the Volta a Catalunya, there were no surprises on Sunday in Barcelona as Sergio Higuita and his Bora-Hansgrohe squad successfully kept a firm grip on the overall lead all the way to the line and to his biggest stage racing success to date.
The two riders that flanked Higuita, 24, on the final podium, Richard Carapaz (Ineos-Grenadiers) at 16 seconds and João Almeida (UAE Emirates) at 52 seconds, had both taken stage wins.
But despite not taking a stage, Higuita's tenacity on the day by shadowing Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) and Almeida when they broke the race apart at Boí Taüll, combined with a spectacular two-up move with Carapaz on stage 6, netted the Colombian his biggest win since a Vuelta a España stage in 2019.
Since then Higuita has taken two national championship titles, as well as a third place in Paris-Nice and the Colombia Tour in 2020.
But his victory in La Volta which saw him take both the King of the Mountains title and the Best Young Rider classification, has made it clear that Higuita's move to Bora-Hansgrohe over the winter could well see the young Colombian performing consistently well on another, higher, level of racing.
"A win like this is out of this world," Higuita, who turned pro in Europe with Euskaltel-Euskadi in 2019 for a few months before transferring to EF Education First for the remainder of the same season, said afterwards.
"I did a good Tour of California in 2019, finshing second behind a great Tadej Pogačar, getting some good other GC results like fourth in the Tour de Pologne.
"Then after winning Colombia and doing well in Paris-Nice, I learned about handling the pressure of leadership.
"And those lessons were really useful for me today when I was coming under fire with a lot of attacks from all sides. Together with the team, where all the riders really helped me in the finale, I got through fine."
It was notable that Higuita was one of the very few well-placed GC riders who did not attack at all on the final stage, which perhaps could have eliminated some of the other top contenders from the running.
On the other hand, he was not dropped at any point, either, unlike his closest rival Carapaz, who surprisingly lost time on the final lap before getting back on, or the briefly gapped Quintana.
However, Higuita recognised that he had been specially worried about the final stage after such a huge effort on Saturday, but finally it did not prove so difficult as he had feared.
"Fortunately everybody was really on the limit today, not just me, and I just tried to ride as consistently as possible, without going in too deep," he said. "And I could do that well."
Finally, then, Higuita's regularity proved to be one key to success, but only when combined, of course, with that hugely-daring attack on stage 6 alongside Carapaz.
"It's been a really tough race…the first stage, the second, the third, fourth, fifth and sixth. And today was really tough as well. Just as well these hilly circuits are the kind that I really like, because it was a very tough little climb each time we went round and they're the ones that suit me the most."
No Giro call-up as Higuita aims for the Vuelta
Higuita paid tribute to his Bora-Hansgrohe squad, saying the change of team had proved to be hugely beneficial for him and that the first few months had worked out well, "which pushes you to to do better."
However, he ruled out a participation in the Giro d'Italia, despite showing so strongly in the early part of the season, with the Vuelta a España remaining as his main Grand Tour objective of the year.
"Bora is a Geman squad and they're very organised with things like rosters and line-ups for races, they don't like doing changes in things like that," he said with a grin, after confirming Jai Hindley and Wilco Kelderman still down as the two leaders for Italy.
In terms of his own future, in any case, Higuita says he has no intention of limiting himself either to Grand Tours or hilly Classics, where he has also turned in some very promising results.
"These days, it's possible to do both kinds of races well," he insisted. "Look at guys like Tadej Pogačar or Primož Roglič. They win top stage races and big one-day races. I want to try to continue to be versatile, whether it's breaking away like Saturday or in time trials or in mountain finishes. Because it's by being flexible that you win races these days."
As a case in point, Higuita cited a one-day race, the Giro d'Emilia, as being the most similar kind of circuit to the Volta a Catalunya's final showdown stage through Montjuic park.
And, he said, his previous experience in that Italian Classic had proved the most useful resource when it came to knowing how to defend his WorldTour lead on the relentless series of punchy climbs on Sunday.
"I like these kinds of circuits, it reminds me of the ultra-hard one in Emilia " where he took third in 2019, "so that really helped me to calculate my strength much better today," he said.
The fifth Colombian to take the Volta a Catalunya and the first since Miguel Ángel López in 2019, Higuita was predictably delighted to form part of a select group that was first created thanks to Alvaro Mejia's win in Catalunya way back in 1993 with the mythical Motorola squad.
But Higuita refused, too, to say whether he rated this win much higher than any other in his career, be it a stage finish in the Volta ao Algarve this February on the Alto do Malhao, or his stage win in the sierras of Madrid in the Vuelta a España 2019.
"Cycling these days is very hard in any kind of race," he observed, "so I think any kind of success is important. Whether it was the medals I won in 2004, as a seven-year-old in my first race, or the most recent wins of all, they're all important, because they're all part of a story, which I'm living through step by step."
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