Kenenisa Bekele leads the men's entries for the elite race at the 2017 London Marathon ©Getty Images

Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele is set to compete at this year's Virgin Money London Marathon after the start list for the elite men's race was revealed today.

Already a triple Olympic champion and double world record holder on the track, Bekele became the world’s second fastest marathon runner of all time when he won the Berlin Marathon last September. 

Bekele, winner of a 10,000 metres Olympic gold medal at Athens 2004 and 5,000m and 10,000m gold at Beijing 2008, missed the world record by just six seconds when he crossed the finish line in the German capital in 2 hours 03min 03sec.

It was the fastest marathon time in the world last year and broke Haile Gebreselassie’s Ethiopian record, highlighting his ability to Ethiopia’s selectors, who controversially chose not to pick him for Rio 2016. 

Bekele is also due to run in the Dubia Marathon on January 20 before beginning preparations for London on April 23.

There he will attempt to become only the third Ethiopian man ever to win the London Marathon title and the first since Tsegaye Kebede in 2013.

He made his London Marathon debut last year when he finished third behind Kenyan duo Eliud Kipchoge and Stanley Biwott.

"London is the greatest marathon in the world and I would love to win there," said Bekele.

"The field is always the best and victory means so much.

"After finishing third last year, I know what I need to do to win."

Biwott, winner of the 2015 New York City Marathon, is likely to be Bekele’s main rival as he leads the Kenyan challenge in the absence of Olympic champion Kipchoge, who will not seek a third consecutive London title. 

Such is the quality of the line-up, however, the leading pair are just two of seven men who have run marathons in under 2:06.

Three of the top five finishers from Rio 2016 will also be racing in the English capital.

Ethiopia's Olympic silver medallist Feyisa Lilesa is set to be among the top runners at this year's London Marathon, where he will face a number of rivals from Kenya ©Getty Images
Ethiopia's Olympic silver medallist Feyisa Lilesa is set to be among the top runners at this year's London Marathon, where he will face a number of rivals from Kenya ©Getty Images

Bekele will be joined by his compatriots, Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist Feyisa Lilesa and the 2016 Dubai and Hamburg Marathon champion Tesfaye Abera.

Lilesa has still not returned to his homeland since he made a gesture used to oppose the Government’s police crackdowns on protests in his home region of Oromo as he crossed the finish line at Rio 2016.

He has been living in the United States on a temporary visa since the Olympics and admits that, while he hopes to represent Ethiopia in the future, he will not do so until the current Government is "removed".

Biwott, meanwhile, will be joined by compatriots Abel Kirui and Daniel Wanjiru.

After a number of years without a major victory, Kirui was a surprise winner of the Chicago Marathon last October and will be looking for another strong performance as he seeks selection for Kenya’s 2017 World Championship team.

Eritrea’s young star Ghirmay Ghebreslassie will also be in action in London after winning  last year's New York City Marathon crown last November and placing fourth at Rio 2016. 

Europe could also have a serious challenger in the shape of Abraham Tadesse, who broke the Swiss record last March when he clocked 2:06:40 in Seoul, missing the continental record by just four seconds.

The Eritrean-born Tadesse went on to win half-marathon gold for his adopted country at the European Championships last summer and placed seventh at the Olympic Games a month later.

Alphonce Felix Simbu of Tanzania, fifth at Rio 2016, is also down to run in London but Olympic bronze medallist Galen Rupp of the United States will be absent.