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Higuita wins stage, Roglic moves closer to Vuelta victory

BECERRIL DE LA SIERRA, Spain (AP) — Primoz Roglic took a step closer to winning the Spanish Vuelta with a strong second-place finish on the 18th stage on Thursday, increasing his overall lead entering the final stretch of the three-week race.

Colombian Sergio Higuita won the 177.5-kilometer (110.3-mile) stage after breaking away and fending off a late charge by Roglic and Alejandro Valverde. It was the first Grand Tour stage win for the 22-year-old rider from team EF Education First.

"I didn't have any energy left, but I had my heart set on those dreams I've chased for so long," Higuita said. "I was very emotional at the finish line because there were so many Colombian fans there."

Roglic, a former ski jumper from Slovenia riding for team Jumbo-Visma, increased his lead to 2 minutes, 50 seconds going into the final two competitive stages before the finale in Madrid on Sunday. "It was another hard day and the team was super strong again," Roglic said. "We need to continue our good job. Every day is important, we learned our lesson yesterday and I expect full-gas racing every day."

Valverde, the veteran Spaniard from team Movistar, moved back to second overall after this third-place finish on Thursday. "There are two hard days left," the 39-year-old Valverde said. "We can still win it or lose it."

Nairo Quintana, Valverde's teammate, had been 2:24 behind Roglic after a strong charge in Wednesday's stage. But the Colombian ended up losing ground and dropped to third overall. Fellow Colombian Miguel Ángel López made several attacks on Thursday but couldn't keep up with Roglic. He was fourth overall, more than four minutes off the lead.

"There is a lot of terrain left, with two interesting stages on which, being strong, we can pull off something interesting," López said. On Friday, riders will face a flat 165.2-kilometer (102.6-mile) stage that will end in Toledo.

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