Italy's Daniel Bennati of Liquigas took the overall race leader's golden jersey in the Tour of Spain on Monday despite finishing the third stage in second place behind Belgium's Tom Boonen.
Quick Step rider Boonen finished the 168.6-kilometre (105-mile) ride between Jaén and Cordoba, which included a moderate climb, in 4hr 25min 24sec, with Germany's Erik Zabel of Milram in third.
"I would have preferred to win the stage, the golden jersey is a small consolation," said Bennati who took over the race leader's jersey from Caisse d'Epargne's Alejandro Valverde of Spain due to time bonuses.
Valverde, who won stage two, is seven seconds back in second overall, with Boonen third, a further three second behind.
Boonen, who did not take part in the Tour de France after he tested positive for cocaine use, took the stage after winning the bunch sprint at the end of the ride held under scorching temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).
"This is a very special victory," he said. "Unlike in other years when I came to the Vuelta to prepare for the World Cycling Championships, I am in really good shape."
Tuesday's fourth stage of the Vuelta is a 158-kilometre ride between Cordoba and Puertollano.
Valverde is one of the favourites to win the race this year along with compatriots Alberto Contador, the 2007 Tour de France champion, and Carlos Sastre, the winner of this year's Tour de France.
Last year's champion, Russia's Denis Menchov, is not participating. The 3,133 kilometre-long (1,943-mile) Tour of Spain finishes with a ride through the streets of Madrid on September 21.
For full results, report and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com
© AFP & BikeRadar 2008