2009 Vuelta winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) moved into the race lead after taking victory in the first uphill finish of this year's race in Eibar.
Valverde outsprinted Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Great Britain's Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) at the end of a thrilling stage which saw the GC contender show their hands just three days into the race.
The select four-man group broke away after Contador attacked 2.4km from the finish on the first-category Alto de Arrate. He was the stage's main aggressor, frequently injecting pace into a lead group severely whittled down by the arduous nature of the climb.
Froome never looked in danger and rode smartly to watch his rivals throughout, and beat Contador to take third on the line, and with it a key eight-second prime.
Although Froome only had Richie Porte to count on on the Arrate, his Sky team-mates worked hard throughout and played a key role in bringing back the day's breakaway, which included Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing).
British National Road Race champion Ian Stannard's efforts on the approach to the final climb saw the race come back together again, before Froome led from the front.
With the four-man group clear, Contador attempted to attack in the final kilometre, a slight downhill section in Eibar. However Rodriguez and Valverde both accelerated past him and contested for the stage, which the latter won on the line. Froome's positioning meant he too got the better of Contador to take third.
Valverde's team-mate and overnight race leader Jonathan Castroviejo was distanced on the climb, so the stage winner takes over the red jersey. Rodriguez moves up to third, 19 seconds off the lead, with Froome a further second behind him in fourth.
Vuelta a Espana 2012, stage three: Faustino V to Eibar (Arrate)
1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar 155.3km in 3-49-37
2. Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team
3. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky
4. Alberto Contador (Esp) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank all at st.
5. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha at 0-06
6. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank
7. Eros Capecchi (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
8. Benat Intxausti (Spa) Movistar Team
9. Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp
10. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank all at st.
General Classification after stage three
1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar in 8-46-56
2. Benat Intxausti (Spa) Movistar at 0-18
3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 0-19
4. Chris Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling at 0-20
5. Alberto Contador (Esp) Saxo Bank- Tinkoff Bank at 0-24
6. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank at 0-28
7. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at 0-30
8. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Team Sky at st
9. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha at 0-33
10. Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 0-46
Alejandro Valverde pips Joaquin Rodriguez to the line, ahead of Froome and Contador
Vuelta a Espana 2012: Startlist
Vuelta a Espana 2012: Latest news
Porte puts Olympics snub to the side ahead of Vuelta debut
ITV to show Vuelta highlights
Froome to lead Sky at Vuelta
Vuelta a Espana 2012: Reports
Stage one report: Movistar win team time trial
Stage two report: Degenkolb wins, Swift third
Stage three report: Valverde victorious after Contador attacks
Vuelta a Espana 2012: Photos
Stage two gallery
Stage three gallery
Vuelta a Espana 2012: Route info and analysis
Vuelta a Espana 2012 route revealed
Vuelta 2012 route leaves time triallists out in the cold
Vuelta a Espana 2011: Coverage index
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Nick Bull is an NCTJ qualified journalist who has written for a range of titles, as well as being a freelance writer at Beat Media Group, which provides reports for the PA Media wire which is circulated to the likes of the BBC and Eurosport. His work at Cycling Weekly predominantly dealt with professional cycling, and he now holds a role as PR & Digital Manager at SweetSpot Group, which organises the Tour of Britain.
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