Fearnley steals the show
Australian Kurt Fearnley fought off tough competition to win the men's wheelchair title in 1:31:29 after an eight-man sprint finish down The Mall.
The London 2012 Paralympic bronze medallist escaped from the leading pack on The Mall to take the line just ahead of Swiss Marcel Hug and South African Ernst Van Dyk, leaving Britain's six-time champion David Weir two seconds back in fifth place.
"It was great to be among top racers," said Fearnley who broke the course record when he won in 2009. "Anyone could have won it today. I'm just grateful it was me. I didn't see myself winning until the final 10 metres."
Conditions were perfect for the wheelchair athletes with a great field assembled containing Paralympic medallists, past winners and worldwide marathon champions. As has become the customary in London over the years, the men knew the race could well come down to finishing tactics.
Eight athletes stayed together from half way, including Fearnley, Paralympic silver medallist Hug, nine-times Boston winner Van Dyk, and three times London winner Heinz Frei.
But the nation's eyes were on Weir, seemingly poised to take his seventh London victory and move beyond Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson as the most successful London Marathon wheelchair athlete ever.
Weir, wearing the werewolf helmet that was a gift from the London Marathon in January, stayed in contention throughout, taking turns at the front alongside this year's Boston winner, Hiroyuki Yamamoto.
All eight turned into The Mall together and Weir began to unleash his famous sprint finish only to find the afterburners misfiring for once. As he slipped back, Fearnley and Hug pulled away. The Australian broke the tape but Hug was given the same time, finishing runner-up for the second year in a row.
"That was a good, good push," said Fearnley. "Normally, I have some good bits and bad bits but this time it was all good bits. I felt this morning that I had a good push in me and I did."
After finishing fifth at the Boston Marathon on Monday, Fearnley's victory was enough to win the first Boston-London Wheelchair Challenge and claim an extra US$10,000 in prize money.
"There was no thought about not turning up in London," said Fearnley. "Fear can be debilitating but I don't want my life to be rated by fear. We are a big family in marathons and we all wanted to be here."
Hug was quick to acknowledge today's tough challenge.
"I tried to break away three or four times as I don't like a big crowd while I'm racing," he said. "I really thought I had it this year, but it wasn't to be."
Van Dyk clocked 1:31:30 for third, making the London podium for only the second time in eight appearances.
"Wow, what a great race to be involved in," said the South African. "I think everyone was on top form today. To get on the podium with such a great field is a huge boost to anyone. I'll be back next year."
Fourth spot went to Poland's Tomasz Hamerlak, matching Van Dyk's time 1:31:30, while Weir accepted defeat with honour.
"I can't win all the time and I'll bounce back," he said. "This year is my off year in my four-year cycle after the Paralympics. Last year was tough and I'm 34 now so I need to save my body if I am to continue racing."
Frei finished a commendable seventh place at the grand old age of 55. The Swiss world record holder clocked 1:31:32, one of his best times in London yet.
Van Dyk finished second in the Boston-London Challenge, worth an extra US$5,000. Hug picked up $2,500 for third.