The race for the women’s title at the UCI Marathon World Championships has been thrown wide open with the confirmation that current world champ Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida) will not be on the start line to try and repeat the crown she won in Austria last year. Dahle has taken the bold move to forgo the defence of her marathon title to focus on her cross country riding ahead of those world championships in her home country later this year.
The reigning marathon world champion rode to an impressive second place at the cross country World Cup held in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa in April and following the confirmation of her absence at the upcoming marathon worlds it means that the rainbow jersey is back up for grabs.
It has been a good season so far for the 41-year-old, who has claimed a number of favourable results throughout the season with a second at Albstadt and a third at Nové Mesto but she missed out on the second leg of the World Cup in Australia.
Dahle would have been competing for her sixth marathon world title.
With the withdrawal of the defending champion, it is a question of who can step up into the shoes of the Norwegian veteran and there are a number of names that come to mind when discussing a potential winner.
The second placed finisher at the world championships in 2013, Sally Bigham must be a contender for the title and she believes that she is on track to claim her maiden title to go with her British Marathon champs title that she currently holds.
The final place on the 2013 podium was occupied by Ester Süss, who is another rider that has confirmed that she will be taking part in the marathon spectacle that will be starting at the same place that the World Cup started at earlier this year.
Having two of the top three riders in the world lining up on the start line will make for some interesting riding along the 74km route that the women will be slugging it out on.
The fourth spot at the world champs last year was occupied by Annika Langvad of Denmark, and she has also been pitted as one of the favourites to take home the 2014 crown.
The South African contingent will be headed up by 19th place finisher at the 2013 World Champs Robyn de Groot, who will be racing on home soil at the 2014 event and will have a chance to test the track and conditions at the South African National Marathon Championships this weekend.