Oviedo - Spanish rider David de la Cruz won stage nine and claimed the overall lead of the Vuelta a Espana on Sunday with a decisive attack 500m from the line after an early breakaway was never caught.
De la Cruz beat out Belgian Dries Devenyns and Italy's Moreno Moser in a time of 3:47:56 on the 164.5km stage from Cistierna to Oviedo.
The general classification favourites including overnight leader Nairo Quintana and Tour de France winner Chris Froome finished 2min 56sec back.
That gap allowed De la Cruz to jump to the top of the standings, 22 seconds clear of Quintana with his Movistar teammate Alejandro Valverde 19 seconds further back.
Froome slips to fourth, eight seconds further adrift, in his quest to become the first man to win both the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana for 38 years.
Despite another punishing category two climb to the finish over the Alto de Naranco, a 12-man breakaway was never reeled in by the peloton after building up a five minute lead.
That sparked a series of attacks from the strong breakaway group, but it eventually came down to a clash between De la Cruz and Devenyns for the stage win.
But when De la Cruz kicked for the line in the final kilometre, Devenyns couldn't live with him.
"I wasn't thinking about the lead at the end. I was so close to winning the stage, that was my main objective," said De la Cruz.
"It was very hard to ride with Devenyns because he was hard to beat, but I am the leader as well, I can't believe it."
The 27-year-old was in tears and kissed the red jersey as he stood atop the podium.
And with another gruelling summit finish up the special category Mirador de la Reina to come on Monday before the first rest day of the race on Tuesday, De la Cruz is intent on savouring his moment in red.
"Tomorrow is a very hard stage to Covadonga, but for the moment, we have got the stage and the leadership, so let's see what happens and enjoy ourselves."
Three-time Vuelta winner Alberto Contador also finished among the general classification group to remain 2min 01sec off the lead in seventh overall.
Contador suffered a difficult first week as his Tinkoff-Saxo team lost 52 seconds on the opening team time-trial stage and he suffered a huge crash on stage seven.
However, he made up some time on Froome and Valverde on Saturday and is hoping with more time to heal he can launch a bid for a record-equalling fourth Vuelta win.
"I passed the day without problems, let's see if tomorrow I keep improving. First, I want to maintain this level and then, obviously, if there's a chance I will attack," said Contador.
Results from the ninth stage of Vuelta a Espana, 164.5km ride from Cistierna to Oviedo on Sunday:
1. David De la Cruz (ESP/Etixx) 3h47:56, 2. Dries Devenyns (BEL) a
0:27, 3. Moreno Moser (ITA) 0:33, 4. Luis León Sánchez (ESP) 0:51, 5.
Mathias Frank (SUI) 0:51, 6. Alexandre Geniez (FRA) 0:53, 7. Bartosz
Huzarski (POL) 0:58, 8. Thomas De Gendt (BEL) 1:04, 9. Peio Bilbao (ESP)
1:04, 10. Dylan Teuns (BEL) 1:10.
13. Alejandro Valverde (ESP) 2:56, 15. Christopher
Froome (GBR) 2:56, 16. Nairo Quintana (COL) 2:56, 17. Esteban Chaves
(COL) 2:56, 18. Alberto Contador (ESP) 2:56.
1. David De la Cruz (ESP/Etixx) 33h46:24, 2. Nairo Quintana (COL/MOV)
at 0:22, 3. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) 0:41, 4. Christopher Froome
(GBR/SKY) 0:49, 5. Esteban Chaves (COL/ORI) 1:19, 6. Leopold König
(CZE/SKY) 1:38, 7. Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) 2:01, 8. Darwin Atapuma
(COL/BMC) 2:06, 9. Gianluca Brambilla (ITA/ETI) 2:07, 10. Samuel Sanchez