Farah ready but Kipchoge still the king

On Sunday, one of the greatest annual events in endurance sport takes place as a mix of 40,000 amateurs and elite runners alike take on the 39th London Marathon.

The 26.2-mile route starts in Blackheath, passing many of the capital’s major landmarks before finishing on The Mall in front of Buckingham Palace.

The Kenyans have dominated the men’s race in recent years, winning 13 of the last 15 editions, the two others being won by Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Kebede in 2010 and 2013.

It has been a similar story in the women’s race, with seven of the last eight winners coming from Kenya, with Ethiopia’s Tigist Tufa breaking the chain in 2015.

Kipchoge rightly the favourite

While Mo Farah might be the media’s focus, those from the running fraternity are expecting something big from three-time champion and race record-holder Eliud Kipchoge. The 34-year-old has won three of the last four London Marathons and leads the betting at an extremely short 1.68.

Kipchoge has run 11 marathons and won 10 of them, the one blemish a second-place in Berlin in 2013. His win last year in Berlin came in a world record of 2:01:39 and with him unbeaten in London, he is sure to have been tailoring his form as he looks to move clear in the three-way tie at the top of the World Marathon Majors Series.

Can home crowd cheer Farah on?

A head-to-head with Farah is a real possibility this year and has been talked up by race director Hugh Brasher since the Brit won the Chicago Marathon last October.

The home favourite now has the confidence of a top-level victory behind him and it appears the most successful British track athlete in the modern Olympic era is now a fully fledged road star.

The Brit will be desperate to go all the way in his home city and is 4.00 to break the tape. Having spent the last six weeks preparing in Ethiopia, the Mogadishu-born star admits he is “excited” about the race after coming third 12 months ago and warmed up by winning last month’s London Big Half.

At 36, Farah has plenty of miles in his legs and has named Kipchoge, who he is level with at the top of the Series, Wilson Kipsang and Daniel Wanjiru as his main rivals. The 2012 and 2014 London hero Kipsang is a 2:03 man and at 13:00 was maybe keeping something back as he only took sixth behind Farah in March.

Wanjiru was the winner in 2017 and showed good form in finishing third at the Big Half. The 26-year-old is priced at 17.00 but of the Kenyans, he may not carry the same threat as the others, especially when you add 13.00 Abraham Kiptum into the mix.

Kiptum is another who is perhaps a victim of what is (another) brilliant generation of Kenyan athletes and while his ability to stay the pace will be an asset to those around him, maintaining that intensity could prove another issue come those gruelling final miles.

Rising star Kitata carries Ethiopian hopes

The Ethiopian challenge will be carried by Tola Shura Kitata, who, at 22, looks the future of marathon running. The sport is traditionally suited for older men due to the accumulated strength they have built through years of training but the precocious Kitata is bucking the trend.

Runner-up last year in London, he again took second in New York and he seems ripe for a first major win at 8.50. The class of the field may prove too much but if he can stay in the mix, a victory may not be too far away

Keitany can bounce back

It has been a similar story of Kenyan domination in the women’s race and three-time winner Mary Keitany will be looking for revenge after finishing fifth last year. The 37-year-old is the 2.75 favourite and her victories in 2011, 2012 and 2017 – the latter coming in world record time – mark her out as someone to watch.

The last two women’s world records in the marathon have been run in London and Keitany demonstrated her class by bouncing back from her disappointment 12 months ago by winning in New York in November, helping her to joint top of the Women’s series.

Dibaba absence puts pressure on fellow Ethiopians

A bit like Farah, Tirunesh Dibaba has done almost everything possible on the track, while she is also a cross-country star. A second in London and a win Chicago in recent years led to predictions she could go well here but Dibaba announced last week that she had withdrawn as she is expecting her second child and the Ethiopian challenge is instead likely to be carried by Tadelech Bekele and Roza Dereje, both priced at 23.00.

The pair have pedigree, with Bekele runner-up last year in London and Dereje winning last year’s Dubai Marathon but matching the Kenyans looks tough.

All eyes on Cheruiyot

Defending champion in London is Vivian Cheruiyot, known as the ‘Pocket Rocket’, who will be making her third appearance but first as the defending champion.

She held off Keitany on the way to a 2:18:31 victory last year and the pair could spur each other on to a new world record. Cheruiyot, for her part, says she is not thinking about the benchmark, with the 35-year-old, who is priced at 4.00, instead looking to go toe-to-toe with the defending champion. However, winning last month’s Lisbon half-marathon in a world record 1:06:33 shows she is in excellent shape.

Talent elsewhere but that might not be enough

Keitany is part of a three-way tie at the top of the standings alongside compatriots Brigid Kosgei and Gladys Cherono. All three sit on 25 points and Cherono comes in from successfully defending last year’s Berlin Marathon, running a personal best of 2:18:11 in the process, and will want to transfer her form to London after finishing fourth last year.

Kosgei was last year’s Chicago Marathon champion and finished second 12 months ago. Both her and Cherono are 6.00, while Linet Masai maybe one to watch as she continues her transition to the road.

The 2009 10,000m champion in Daegu was fourth to Cheruiyot in Lisbon and while she has the pace to compete, there are doubts over her stamina. A 2:23:46 in Amsterdam last year will have done her the world of good and 15.00 may prove a bit skinny.