By Mike Rowbottom at The Tower Hotel in London 

ShubokhovaApril 13 - Liliya Shobukhova (pictured), who will defend her Virgin London Marathon title on Sunday (April 17), believes Paula Radcliffe, currently preparing for a return to competition this autumn after giving birth to her second child, is in with a chance of winning the Olympic title on home ground next year at the age of 38.

"I never underestimate Paula," said the 33-year-old Russian.

"She is a great athlete and she back running now.

"I have never raced against her, but I would love to run against her in London next summer."

However, Shobukhova has indicated that next year's London race - just three months before the London 2012 marathon over a different course - will not be in her plans.

Asked about whether she would be returning for next year's race, the former track athlete who turned to marathon running two years ago, responded: "If I have already qualified for the London Olympics, I may skip it."

Irina Mikitenko, the Kazakhstan-born athlete who won the 2008 and 2009 London titles for Germany, also backed away from committing herself to a return next year.

"What I am thinking about right now is London 2011," she said.

"Once I've done that I will think about next year."

And neither of these London winners will be competing in this year's World Championships in Daegu.

"The World Championship isn't in my plans," said Shobukhova, while Mikitenko commented: "I am going to be concentrating on running in the autumn this year.

"And I don't think the weather conditions in Daegu will be conducive to good performances."

In contrast, the 2007 London winner Zhou Chunxiu has the World Championships at the top of her list of this year's priorities.

"This year's London race is also our qualifier for the World Championships, so I will try my best to win here."

A strong field that also includes Russia's former 10,000m runner Inga Abitova, Kenya's world half marathon record holder Mary Keitany, and her fellow countrywoman Edna Kiplagat, last year's New York City Marathon winner, will ensure that the time is fast.

With sub-2 hours 20min times to their credit, Mikitenko and Zhou have a clear psychological advantage, but Shobukhova said she thought the overall depth of competition meant that a sub 2:20 time was on the cards this Sunday, where the forecast is for temperatures of 17C.

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