MIRADOR DE EZARO, Spain (AP) Alexandre Geniez of France held off an attack by the title favorites on a brutal final climb to win the third stage of the Spanish Vuelta on Monday.
Geniez completed the hilly 176.4-kilometer (109.6-mile) ride along the Atlantic coast finishing at the Mirador de Ezaro summit in 4 hours, 28 minutes, 36 seconds. The FDJ rider collapsed to the ground after recording his second career win on the Spanish grand tour, needing several minutes to rest before stepping onto the podium.
Geniez compared the short, but very steep ascent to a ''little Alpe d'Huez,'' one of the classic mountain climbs of the Tour de France.
''I worked very hard to arrive to the Vuelta in good shape,'' he said. ''The group didn't increase its pace until late, and by then they couldn't do anything.''
Ruben Fernandez crossed 21 seconds later and took the overall lead. He claimed the red jersey after leading a late charge by Movistar that shook up the times among the contenders, and dropped Alberto Contador even further off the lead.
Alejandro Valverde was third, just ahead of Tour champion Chris Froome and fellow race rivals Esteban Chaves and Nairo Quintana.
Valverde, the 2009 Vuelta winner, moved into second overall at seven seconds behind Fernandez. Froome is 11 seconds back, followed by Chaves and Quintana at 17.
Three-time Vuelta winner Alberto Contador couldn't stay with that bunch on the last ascent, which had a gradient that reached 30 percent.
After losing more ground, Contador will start Tuesday's stage 1 minute, 31 seconds off the lead.
''It wasn't a good day, but like I have said before, the Vuelta is far from over,'' Contador said. ''I am not satisfied, but I feel that my conditioning will improve over the coming days.''
Fernandez looked like he had the legs to catch Geniez, but the Spaniard let up momentarily when it appeared Quintana and Valverde couldn't keep up. When Movistar released him from pulling his leaders up the ascent, it was too late to catch Geniez.
''The idea was to work for Nairo and Alejandro, but at the end they told me to go for it,'' Fernandez said.
Warren Barguil became the first rider to withdraw from the race, quitting because of a sinus infection.
Astana's Miguel Angel Lopez crashed near the end of the stage. Lopez was named the team leader after 2015 Vuelta winner Fabio Aru didn't return for this edition.
Tuesday's stage remains in the hilly northwestern coast, with a 163.5-kilometer (101.5-mile) ride from Betanzos to a summit finish at San Andres de Teixido.
The 21-stage grand tour ends in Madrid on Sept. 11.