The Cape Town Marathon, Africa’s first Gold Label standard marathon, takes place on Sunday, covering 42km with the start and finish in Green Point.

Picking men’s and women’s winners is a conundrum best left to the chief contenders to figure out.

The flat, fast route dictates that tactics need to be spot-on to launch a bid for line honours.

The winners in 2016, Ethiopian Asefa Negewo and Tish Jones, will both be back to defend their titles, but they face much stiffer opposition since the race has been upgraded by the IAAF from the silver status of 12 months ago.

Negewo’s 2h 8min 41sec victory set a race record and was also the fastest time for a marathon in SA.

In the women’s section, Kenya’s Isabella Ochichi holds the record with 2:30:20 set in 2015, but it is some way off Frith van der Merwe’s 2:27:36 Africa record, which was set in Port Elizabeth in 1989.

Due to IAAF protocol that dictates full street closure, an altered route sets up the prospect for another quick time now that there are six fewer corners to navigate. There are four small hills in the first half of the journey and a challenging downhill between 17km and 38km, before a final descent to the finish.

The prospect of a close finish is on the cards and race ambassador Elana Meyer is not predicting winners.

"There is great weather expected on race day, so that’s half the battle won," said Meyer.

"I would love to see a South African double, but that will be easier said than done; the field in the men’s and women’s race is world-class," she said.

"It could come down to whoever is on top of their game, who has done all the hard yards in the lead-up and feels they have peaked at just the right time. But over a relatively flat course, expect many twists and turns to unfold as the leading contenders look to outfox one another.

"Having pacesetters for both the men and women for the first 30-32km adds to the occasion, and fast times are on the cards.

"A possible break over the final 10km could set the cat among the pigeons and offer the possibility of an upset or two. Then again, the many title contenders are an experienced mob, so maybe it could be a very tactical affair."

Negewo will no doubt feel confident about his chances of bagging back-to-back titles, but can expect myriad challengers, with the likes of Laban Mutai and his Kenyan counterpart Samuel Masai expected to mount a serious bid for the silverware along with countryman Duncan Maiyo.

The trio’s personal best times of well under 2:10 mark them as lively threats, while the likes of Seboka Nigusee (Ethiopia) and Motlokoa (Lesotho) are in the reckoning too.

As for who will carry the South African flag high, hopes rest with 2017’s Two Oceans maiden winner, Lungile Gongqa, marathon debutante Elroy Gelant — who steps up from the half-marathon distance — Michael Mazibuko, Lucky Mohale, Xolisa Tyali and
Mbongeni Ngxazozo.

The question of who will try to deny Jones in the women’s race a successful defence is up in the air. Expected to mount a charge are Lebogang Phalula (third in 2016), Zintle Xiniwe, Irvette van Zyl and Cornelia Joubert, while the Mother City’s Tanith Maxwell could be among the medals as well.

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