Paulissen set to defend rainbow stripes at marathon worlds

Roel Paulissen figures out his lines.

Roel Paulissen figures out his lines. (Image credit: Tour of Japan)

On Sunday, Roel Paulissen (Cannondale Factory Racing) will race to defend his marathon world championship title in Graz, Austria. He won in 2008 in a tight sprint finish with world cross country champion Christoph Sauser.  Both riders were involved in a controversial crash, and after protests were filed and reviewed, Paulissen was awarded the title.

"It was a special feeling to ride around in that jersey!" said Paulissen in an interview on "Since I was a young rider, that was one of my big dreams - to get the World Champion jersey."

The Belgian says that becoming world champion changed his life. "The people look at me in a different way... . From that moment, I was known as one of the long distance specialists, which is strange, because I was a cross country racer my whole life and still feel like one."

A year ago at the marathon worlds, Paulissen had an almost home-town advantage, as the race was run near his Italian base. This year, he's less familiar with the course, which he described as difficult and featuring a mix of short, steep uphills and long, gravel road climbs.

"Last year I could tell you before the race how it would go in the race. This year there are a lot more critical points where you can attack and you have to pay attention for the whole time. Especially on the first 50km it is very difficult."

Paulissen will face off against Sauser, Leonardo Paez, Urs Huber, Alban Lakata, Wolfram Kurschat and Massimo Debertolis, to name a few of the top contenders.

When asked about the key to success in marathons, Paulissen said, "I think you have to do both cross countries and marathons to win the marathon worlds. First, you need the endurance to come through the long distance and second, you have to be explosive for the attacks to win." Paulissen spends most of his time contesting the shorter discipline, but enjoys endurance-oriented events.

After the marathon worlds, Paulissen will travel directly to Australia for the cross country worlds happening the next weekend. Then it's onto the final two World Cups in Europe, the GP Roel Paulissen and the Roc d'Azur to close out the season.

Looking longer term, Paulissen said he will continue to race both Olympic distance cross country and marathons as well as some stage races. He said he may even try endurance races such as the Crocodile Trophy or the Leadville 100.

"You can't do these races as a cross country pro during the season, so I'll save them for the end of my career."

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