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Preview: Martin chasing history at Richmond world championships

RICHMOND, Virginia (AFP) — Tony Martin is preparing for a record-equalling tilt at glory as the UCI Road World Championships get under way this weekend, two months after the German crashed out of the Tour de France with a broken collarbone.

The 30-year-old Etixx-Quick-Step rider is seeking his fourth individual time trial title in five years, which would equal the all-time mark set by Swiss star Fabian Cancellara, who took four of five between 2006 and 2010.

Martin’s reign began in 2011 and lasted until he finished second last year to Great Britain’s Bradley Wiggins, who has since retired from road racing as he focuses on track cycling.

In July, Martin took the yellow jersey in the Tour de France but crashed out in stage 6. Last month, however, he showed he was back on form by winning the Tour de Poitou-Charentes.

“I’m happy to be here after my crash on the Tour de France,” Martin said. “I’m looking forward to racing.”

Martin must wait until next Wednesday for the time trial, but his first race will come in Sunday’s six-rider team time trial, where the Etixx squad, which won the 2012 and 2013 world championships, will try to reclaim the title from defending champion BMC Racing. Etixx’ lineup includes defending road race champion Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland. Orica-GreenEdge has finished second in the race the last two years and hopes this year will lead to a victory.

“I saw the course on Sunday and I have to say it will be pretty fast,” Etixx sport director Tom Steels said.

“It will be fast until the last climb, which is more or less in the last kilometer. It will be a tough finale. It will be really close among the teams.”

BMC boasts Australian veteran Rohan Dennis and American star Taylor Phinney, while Orica has Australians Luke Durbridge and Michael Hepburn, along with Canada’s Svein Tuft, on its TTT roster.

In the individual time trial, Martin faces a challenge from Movistar riders Adriano Malori of Italy and Jonathan Castroviejo of Spain — both national champions — plus Dennis and Dutchman Tom Dumoulin, who was third last year.

Brennauer the women’s favorite

Germany’s Lisa Brennauer, the 27-year-old defending women’s individual time trial champion, will lead Velocio-SRAM into a quest for a fourth consecutive women’s team time trial crown on Sunday.

The squad, formerly known as Specialized-Lululemon, also includes German Trixi Worrack, who is seeking her fourth straight team time trial gold medal, and Canada’s Karol-Ann Canuel.

They will be tested by three-time podium finisher Orica-AIS, an Aussie-powered lineup with Amanda Spratt back from the past two years that also features Sweden’s Emma Johansson, second in the 2013 women’s road race and third last year, and Oceania time trial champion Katrin Garfoot.

“The group has a great feel about it and I think they can surprise themselves this weekend with the ride they are capable of putting together,” Orica-AIS sport director Gene Bates said.

Johansson and Dutch rider Ellen van Dijk should challenge Brennauer in Tuesday’s women’s individual time trial, with Americans Evelyn Stevens and Kristen Armstrong threats as well.

Olympic champion back

Armstrong, 42, is the two-time reigning Olympic champion coming back from starting a family to compete. She won the rainbow jersey in the individual time trial in 2006 and 2009.

The road races will be staged September 26-27, with the men’s 259.2km layout offering no tough climbs but some cobblestones that could be costly for the careless.

The course could favor Slovakian Peter Sagan, who was injured in the Vuelta a Espana after colliding with a moto, if he’s healthy.

Kwiatkowski will be in the hunt to defend, while Norway’s Alexander Kristoff, German John Degenkolb, and Belgians Philippe Gilbert (the 2012 world champion) and Greg van Avermaet are also drawing attention.

Spain’s Alejandro Valverde, the 2003 and 2005 runner-up who was third in the world road race in each of the past three years, could break through in Richmond and grab an elusive victory.

Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead is expected to join Brennauer and Johansson as the top challengers to defending champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot for the women’s road race crown.

This year is only the second time the U.S. has hosted the worlds, with Colorado Springs playing host to the 1986 edition of the event. More than 1,000 riders from 70 nations will compete in Richmond.

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