Despite media efforts to promote this as a head-to-head, writes Jack Houghton, the reality is that Mo Farah will be an onlooker in Kipchoge's one-man-show
"Farah's third-place last year in 2.06 (which was achieved despite inexperienced, slapdash race management and pacing) established him as a viable big-marathon winner..."
The London Marathon takes place on Sunday 28th April. Coverage of this year's race begins on BBC2 at 8.30am before switching to BBC1 at 10.00am.
Cheruiyot for repeat in stacked Women's Race - 9.25am Start
Every year it seems I start this preview by heralding the unprecedented quality of the field and, in the interest of originality perhaps, I should perhaps opt for something different. The problem is that the women's marathon continues to blossom internationally - with more than 30 women having now broken the (until-recently) rarefied 2.20-mark - and, each year, more of them show up in London. So, this year it's more of the same, I'm afraid: even with Tirunesh Dibaba pulling out, this field is the strongest ever assembled, with six of the women remaining having a personal best faster than 2.20. Or in other words, six women who can post a race-winning time, with a slew of others who could go close if the race is run at a slower pace.
Race favourite at around 2.757/4 is four-time New York and three-time London winner, Mary Keitany, who also set a women-only world record here in 2017. Last year I recommended punters avoid Keitany, due to her occasional tendency to chase suicidally fast times, and she duly faded to 5th after starting far too quickly. She's more than capable of getting it right, too, of course (you don't win as many races as she has otherwise), but I'm not sure her odds represent value in such a competitive field, especially taking into account her withdrawal from the RAK half-marathon in February due to fatigue, which usually serves as her warm-up race for London.
On that basis, last year's winner, Vivian Cheruiyot (4.507/2) should probably be favourite and represents the value bet in the field: Sunday will only be her fifth marathon so there is a reasonable expectation that she can continue to improve on her 2.18 of last year; she recently ran a half-marathon personal best in Lisbon; and she has been bullish in press conferences, saying she is in better shape than a year ago. Aside from the strong field, which they all have to contend with, the only doubts around Cheruiyot are race conditions: it was 24 degrees when she won this last year - with some suggesting she merely handled conditions better than the others - but forecasts suggest a more wintery and possibly windy 12 degrees will face the field on Sunday.
Last year I tipped Gladys Cherono at big odds to cause an upset. She didn't quite manage that but has continued to improve in the year since, running the fastest time of last year when winning in Berlin. It's likely that Cheruiyot and Keitany at their best still have the edge on Cherono, but it would be no huge surprise to see her in contention. Her odds of around 7.5013/2 are about right.
The rising star of the field is the 25-year-old Brigid Kosgei, who was impressive in winning Chicago last Autumn. She's built on that this year by running two lightning-quick half-marathons in Houston and Bahrain and, if that is form she can transfer to the longer distance, she'd be the favourite to win this. On balance, though, the best odds available - around 5.004/1 - look on the short side for someone who has yet to beat a field with this depth. Vivian Cheruiyot (4.507/2), then, remains the call.
Kipchoge is class apart in Men's Race- 10.10am Start
Race promoters have done their best to bill this as a head-to-head between Eliud Kipchoge and Mo Farah, but, in reality, the gulf between the two is significant and I'm not sure the international media view Farah's chances in quite the same light as the British press do.
In fairness to Farah, I underestimated his chances last year. His third-place in 2.06 (which was achieved despite inexperienced, slapdash race management and pacing) established him as a viable big-marathon winner: a promise he delivered on when toying with the field to win Chicago in 2.05. He thinks he could have run 2.04 that day, and is reported to be in good form, evidenced by a satisfactory win in windy conditions in the London half-marathon earlier in the year. As seems the norm with Farah, he manages to bring media controversy wherever he goes, and this time claims of hotel-gym brawls and grumblings about pace-makers in Sunday's race have dominated the headlines and social media. These kinds of distractions can't help his mental preparation, but it is the form he has shown in races that makes his odds of 4.507/2 look desperately skinny.
After all, like the women's race, the field here is deep: with seven of these runners having a personal best faster than Farah's. On his Dubai form, Tamirat Tola will be no push-over for Farah, and Abraham Kiptum's half-marathon world record in October 2018 is especially eye-catching, too. The best outside the first two in the market, though, is likely Tola Shura Kitata. It's worth remembering that he stayed with Kipchoge until the last two miles in 2018 and, based on his Houston half-marathon win in January, he continues to improve.
Boasting form apart, however, is race favourite Eliud Kipchoge, who is going for his fourth London title. And, unless misfortune strikes, it's hard to see him being seriously challenged on Sunday. The last (and only) time he has failed to win a marathon was in Berlin in 2013, a venue he returned to again in September to set a breath-taking world record of 2.01. In his usual hyper-polite and understated way, he's been clear that his training has gone well: it will be a major shock if he doesn't win and 1.608/13 represents value.
Back Eliud Kipchoge at 1.608/13
Back Vivian Cheruiyot at 4.507/2