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Spitz aims to defend marathon world title

All eyes will turn to St. Wendel, Germany, for the World Marathon Championships on Sunday, August 8.  Rainbow jerseys will be up for grabs in the elite men's and elite women's races.

Four of the top five placers from last year's men's race will be on the starting line. Alban Lakata (Austria), Christoph Sauser (Switzerland), Christoph Soukup (Austria) and Wolfram Kurschat (Germany), finishers two through five from last year, are the favorites. Two-time marathon World Champion and last year's winner Roel Paulissen (Belgium) will be notably absent after he failed a doping test and then retired last month.

Host nation Germany is sending a strong team in addition to Kurschat, who's been recovering from a rib injury.  He'll be racing with German teammates Hannes Genze, Karl Platt and Mortiz Milatz.

Former marathon World Champion Sauser will get extra Swiss support from Ralph Naef and Urs Huber while Spain is fielding a powerful three-man team including José Antonio Hermida, Marc Trayter and Sergio Mantecon.

Hermida offered his prediction of how the race will unfold, "There will be a 10-man group facing the last kilometers together. Strategy and the psychological factor will be the key. Those moments will be where you really need to know how to play your cards in order to get a good result."

Other men to watch are Australia's Adrian Jackson, France's Thomas Dietsch, Italy's Mike Felderer and Mirko Celestino, Namibian Mannie Heymans and South Africa's Burry Stander and Kevin Evans.  American Jeremiah Bishop is reportedly not racing, so the US team will have no male representation.

Racers will compete on a 90km, single-lap course through Saar-Hunsrück Nature Park that is fast and open for the first half before hitting a bunch of singletrack mid-way through. They'll pass quickly through the start finish area before heading out for the final 30km.

"The course profile is comparable to a blade, constant up and down. No meter is really flat," said Torsten Marx (Germany). "The climbs are not too steep. I pretty much rode the course in the big chain ring."

In the women's race, defending champion Sabine Spitz (Germany) will be racing on home soil. She'll likely battle with last year's runner-up Esther Süss (Switzerland). Last year's bronze medallist, Petra Henzi, is not on the start list.

Spitz will be supported by many teammates, among them Elisabeth Brandau, Ivonne Kraft and Anja Gradl.

Denmark is fielding a strong long-distance squad with stage racing sisters Kristine Noergaard and Anna-Sofie Noergaard and Annika Langvad in its line-up.

Australia's Jodie Willett, Spain's Anna Villar, Finland's Pia Sundstedt, South Africa's Yolande Speedy and Slovenian Blaza Klemencic are other women to watch for podium finishes.

In their first race representing the US at marathon worlds, Sonya Looney and Krista Park will be wearing the stars and stripes.  Park made the journey across the Atlantic after her sponsors pitched in to support a raffle that raised funds to help her cover trip expenses.

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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.