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De Marchi wins 7th Vuelta stage, Valverde leads

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ALCAUDETE, Spain (AP) Alessandro de Marchi of Italy pulled away from a small breakaway group to win an accident-filled seventh stage of the Spanish Vuelta on Friday, while Alejandro Valverde maintained the overall lead.

Former Tour de France champion Chris Froome fell early in the stage and cut his right hip, but he managed to get back on his bike and finished strongly, shaving two seconds off Valverde's lead.

De Marchi, riding for Cannondale, shed the other three escapees and rode alone for the last 13 kilometers (8 miles) to complete the hilly 169-kilometer (105-mile) ride through rolling olive groves in just over four hours.

De Marchi described his first stage win in a grand tour as his best day on a bike.

''I have waited a long time for the moment,'' said the 28-year-old De Marchi.

Froome, who withdrew from last month's Tour de France after a series of falls, shook off his latest spill and chipped into his rivals' advantage with a sprint at the finish.

Nairo Quintana remained in second place at 15 seconds behind Valverde, his Movistar teammate. Alberto Contador was third at 18 seconds off the pace, with Froome now just two seconds slower.

Several other riders were not as fortunate.

Ivan Santaromita became the first rider to withdraw from this Vuelta when he fractured a finger during a fall with two other riders, who both later called it quits as well.

Ryder Hesjedal's chances of keeping with De Marchi in the breakaway were ended when his bike slid out from under him on a turn. Warren Barquil then received a hard knock in the final sprint and grimaced as he walked his bike across the finish line.

''It wasn't as hot as yesterday, but it was still beating down,'' Valverde said about the temperatures that still reached 37 degrees Centigrade (98 degrees Fahrenheit), down from 40 degrees the prior two days.

''I didn't have any close calls, but you had to be very careful because there were a lot of crashes and it was dangerous,'' Valverde said.

Saturday's stage is a 207-kilometer (128-mile) ride from Baeza to Albacete.

The 21-stage race ends in Santiago de Compostela on Sept. 14.