The study of photoexcited strongly correlated materials is attracting growing interest since their rich phase diagram often translates into an equally rich out-of-equilibrium behaviour. With femtosecond optical pulses, electronic and lattice degrees of freedom can be transiently decoupled, giving the opportunity of stabilizing new states inaccessible by quasi-adiabatic pathways. Here we show that the prototype Mott-Hubbard material V2O3 presents a transient non-thermal phase developing immediately after ultrafast photoexcitation and lasting few picoseconds. For both the insulating and the metallic phase, the formation of the transient configuration is triggered by the excitation of electrons into the bonding a1g orbital, and is then stabilized by a lattice distortion characterized by a hardening of the A1g coherent phonon, in stark contrast with the softening observed upon heating. Our results show the importance of selective electron-lattice interplay for the ultrafast control of material parameters, and are relevant for the optical manipulation of strongly correlated systems.