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Also-ran Sagan must deliver at world championships

cycle_grapPARIS-- Long hailed as cycling's next big thing, even drawing comparisons with the great Eddy Merckx, Peter Sagan will silence his critics if he finally claims a top-notch victory at the road cycling world championships.
  The championships in Richmond, Virginia starting on Sunday have returned to the United States after a 29-year hiatus.
  Sagan has managed eight top 10s in the Monument Classics, but never won despite being the pre-race favourite several times.
  The 25-year-old Slovak has won four successive Tour de France green jerseys and as many stage wins, yet this year he finished second on five occasions.
  He will hope to have completely shrugged off injuries he sustained when he crashed out of the Vuelta a Espana last month after colliding with a race motorbike.
  However, Sagan will be on a route tailor-made for him, a rider with decent sprinting qualities added to a capacity to master short, brutal climbs.
  Three of these, featuring cobbles, will be on the final three kilometres of the 16.2-km circuit the peloton will tackle 16 times, and Sagan is one of the specialists but he will not be the only one in a wide-open race.
  Among the favourites are Belgians Greg van Avermaet and Tom Boonen, while Spain will rely on Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde even if their bickering cost them the title in 2013.
  Nor should defending champion Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland, Australian Michael Matthews and Norway's Alexander Kristoff be written off in the 259.2-km race.
  Tony Martin of Germany will become the most decorated rider in the individual time trial if, in the absence of defending champion Bradley Wiggins, he equals Swiss Fabian Cancellara's record four titles.
  He will likely be challenged by Australian Rohan Dennis and Dutchman Tom Dumoulin if he has recovered from a punishing Vuelta, where he surrendered the overall lead on the penultimate day.
  Cancellara, who has had an injury-plagued season, said he was skipping the world championships altogether.
  In-form Lizzie Armitstead of Britain will start the women's road race as favourite after securing the overall World Cup title, but she will face stiff competition from defending champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot of France and Dutchwoman Anna van der Breggen.
  The championships kick off on Sunday with the women's and men's team time trials. In the men's event, American outfit BMC Racing are the top favourites.
  The men's road race will be staged on Sunday, Sept. 27.