Italian national champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) was the surprise winner of the first road stage of the 2006 Vuelta on Sunday.

Bettini ?who is using the Vuelta to get ready for the world championships in Austria, found a perfect line in the sprint to make a late charge and beat Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole), Luca Paolini (Liquigas) and Robbie McEwen (Davitamon).

After leading the chase of early breakaway Mario De Sarraga (Relax) who went clear after three kilometres, Milram tried to lead out Erik Zabel but he was passed by McEwen who was in turn faded and was passed by Bettini just before the line. It was Bettini?s sixth win of the 2006 season.

Stage one race leader Carlos Sastre (CSC) punctured with two kilometres to go. He was given the same time as the leaders but lost the gold leader?s jersey to Hushovd who took the lead by two seconds thanks to a 12-second bonus for second on the stage and eight intermediate bonus seconds.

Monday?s 220km second stage is from Cordoba to Almendralejo, close to the central border with Portugal.