Cavendish is the first Brit in 24 years to lead the Vuelta a Espana
Mark Cavendish took the leader's red jersey in the Tour of Spain after his HTC-Columbia squad won the floodlit opening team time trial in Seville.
Cavendish was first across the line as his nine-man team covered the 13km course in 14 minutes six seconds.
Cavendish, 25, becomes the first British rider to lead the Vuelta a Espana since Robert Millar in 1986.
And he will expect to stay in red with a sprint finish in Marbella on Sunday, at the end of a 173.7km stage.
"As soon as we did the first training ride on the course on Thursday, even after 10 minutes on the bike, we were riding so well together I had the feeling we were going to win," said Cavendish.
"I get to stand on the podium quite a lot, but that's because of eight other guys' hard work.
"Today we all got to stand on the podium and I'm incredibly proud of what my team-mates did."
Saxo Bank, including Luxembourg's Andy and Frank Schleck and Swiss time trial world champion Fabian Cancellara, were third, 12 seconds behind the winners and two seconds off the Liquigas outfit of Italy's Vincenzo Nibali.
Team Sky's young squad, including British trio Peter Kennaugh, Ian Stannard and Ben Swift, finished 14th, 28 seconds behind HTC-Columbia.
They had to battle back after Thomas Löfkvist - considered their best hope for overall victory - momentarily lost touch in the early stages.
Team Principal Dave Brailsford explained: "They went off like a train and Thomas just got distanced a little bit on one of the chicanes.
"That meant he had to fight really hard to get back which put him into the red and it was hard work for him from then on."
Large crowds lined the route for the stage, which began at 10pm local time.
Brailsford was impressed by the innovation, saying: "It's good to see cycling trying to do things slightly differently every now and then when the opportunity arises."
The 21-stage 65th edition of the Vuelta, in which 198 riders from 22 teams are competing, ends in Madrid on 19 September.
The course, which includes six summit finishes in eight mountain stages, is expected to favour the climbers and could be decided on the penultimate stage, atop the 2,250-metre Bola del Mundo.
The event has been left wide open by the absence of three-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, who skipped his home Tour, which he won in 2008, after a hard-fought victory in France in
July, and last year's winner Alejandro Valverde, who is serving a suspension for doping.
Top contenders now include 35-year-old Russian Denis Menchov, a two-time Tour of Spain winner, the Schleck brothers and the 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre of Spain.