Estonia's Rein Taaramae clinched a surprise victory in stage three of the Vuelta a Espana on Monday and took possession of the red jersey as the race entered the mountains for the first time with a 202km ride from Santo Domingo de Silos to Espinosa de los Monteros.

The 34-year-old veteran broke away from the eight-man leading pack and hit the front with 2km to go in a gruelling summit finish, winning the second Vuelta stage of his career -- a decade on from his first -- in five hours 16 minutes 57 seconds.

American Joe Dombrowski finished 21 seconds behind in second with France's Kenny Elissonde third at 36 seconds.

Defending champion Primoz Roglic, who won the individual time trial on Saturday, finished a minute and 48 seconds back.

It was a disappointing day for some of the other favourites, with Olympic road race champion Richard Carapaz struggling and losing a minute, while Sepp Kuss suffered similar agony, being left behind with 3km to go and losing two minutes.

Taaramae's win gave him a 25-second advantage over Elissonde in the general classification, with overnight leader Roglic 30 seconds down in third.

The Vuelta will continue on Tuesday with a flat 163.6km course from El Burgo de Osma to Molina de Aragon.