The 20-year-old Slovenian (UAE Team Emirates) caught the Colombian from Education First one kilometre from the summit after the latter had attacked from the final selection of four riders – which included New Zealand’s George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) and Australia’s Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) – a couple of kilometres earlier.
Higuita’s fate was sealed when he misjudged the final turn slightly, giving Pogacar the faster line into the finish with the latter finishing the 127.5km stage from Ontario off in 3:48:50.
Behind them, Bennett tried valiantly to close the gap to the front two in the final two hundred metres but, after initially making up ground, his challenge stalled as Pogacar and Higuita went head-to-head in the sprint, leaving him four seconds adrift.
The stage was turn on its head when former champion and controversial overnight leader Tejay van Garderen (Education First) cracked on the high altitude ascent with just over four kilometres left to climb. Despite the best efforts of his teammate Rigobert Uran, who tried to pace him back up to the leaders, the American continued to lose ground.
Many believed Van Garderen was lucky to be in yellow after the race jury awarded him the same time as the peloton in an earlier stage after he had initially lost almost a minute.
Several riders were held up by a late crash on that occasion and the race jury decided to enforce the three-kilometre rule where everyone in the group is awarded the same time. Many observers however questioned whether Van Garderen, who was busy chasing the peloton following an earlier mechanical issue, had actually made contact when the crash happened.
With one stage left, Pogacar leads the general classification (30:01:57) ahead of Higuita (+0:16), Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s Kasper Asgreen (+19), Bennett (+28) and Porte (+0:40).
Italian Davide Ballerini (Astana) retained his lead in the king of the mountains competition with Asgreen doing the same in the points classification.
The final stage will take riders from Santa Clarita to Pasadena, a distance of 126km.