Defending champion Eliud Kipchoge retained his London Marathon crown today with a truly commanding performance that took him to second on the all-time list and broke the two-year-old course record.

The 31-year-old Kenyan ran the second fastest marathon ever, finishing in 2:03:05, just eight seconds outside the world record and inside Kipsang's old course record of 2:04:29 by more than a minute.

Kipchoge led from the start on Blackheath all the way to the iconic Finish Line on The Mall, looking completely in control throughout the 26.2-mile race, his performance a masterclass in efficient running and perfect pacing as he out-kicked the best men's field ever assembled for a marathon.

"I'm happy that I ran a new course record today; I don't regret missing the world record," he said afterwards. "It was good to get a personal best and I believe the world record is within my grasp.

"The London crowds really pushed me on today," he continued. "It's a great course and the support was perfect - the crowd was fantastic."

Kipchoge's performance was fantastic too, given the blustery and cool conditions.

From the gun, a group of nine of the fastest men of all time formed behind the two Kenyan pacemakers Gideon Kipketer and Cosmas Lagat. After a fast first mile of 4:30, they settled into a tight bunch with Kipchoge, Stanley Biwott and Wilson Kipsang at the front, stretched in a line across the road, followed by Ethiopian track legend Kenenisa Bekele and world champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie from Eritrea.

Three Ethiopians, Tilahun Regassa, Abera Kuma and Sisay Lemma, hung towards the back of the group, along with world record holder Dennis Kimetto of Kenya.

They went through the first 10km in 28:37, well inside world record pace, and on through Rotherhithe and 15km in 43:17, before the 2015 Frankfurt Marathon champion, Lemma, became the first casualty of the quick pace. He dropped a minute back to leave a group of eight - Kipchoge, Bekele, Kipsang, Kimetto, Ghebreslassie, Kuma, Regassa and Biwott - all bunched together depite the furious tempo.

Consistent mile splits of around 4:40 saw the leaders cross Tower Bridge and stream past the 20km marker in 58:10, still on world record pace and enjoying the bright sunshine and colourful crowds gathered on the bridge to support today's runners. Kipchoge stayed at the front, tucked in behind the pacemakers, and directing them to stick to the 'blue line'.

After going through half way in 61:24, the fastest ever first half in London, the group strung out as the men grabbed their drinks on The Highway, Kipsang taking a tumble as he reached for his bottle. He picked himself up and rejoined the group but may have taken a knock, as he dropped off the pace later in the race.

Soon there were six in the lead group - Kipchoge, Kipsang, Biwott, Bekeke, Ghebreslassie and Regassa - with just one pacemaker leading them towards the Isle of Dogs.

Kipchoge, still sporting a bright yellow headband, asked the pacemaker to pick up the pace and the 4:32 mile proved too much for world champion Ghebreslassie, who fell back alongside Ethiopia's Regassa to leave four to fight for three podium places.

The war of attrition continued, as London's 2012 champion, Kipsang lost touch around 25km. Bekele dropped back too, as the leading men grabbed drinks, but the diminutive Ethiopian dragged himself back to join Kipchoge and Biwott as they sped thorugh 16 miles in 1:14:49.

The two leading Kenyans looked full of running as the pacemaker dropped, leaving three to battle for the win. Now the two Kenyas put in a surge, working together to break Bekele and the multiple world record breaker finally dropped behind at 18 miles (1:24:12).

Kipchoge threw off his yellow headband, as if to announce: "Now the race is on". And sure enough, the two Kenyans went through 30k in a new world record time of 1:27:13, seven seconds inside the time run at the Dubai Marathon this January.

As they approached the 20-mile mark and turned west towards the finish, Biwott and Kipchoge were still running at world record pace, side by side, pushing each other through consistent 4:44 miles.

The colourful masses, surging along The Highway in the other direction, watched in awe as the front runners put on a mesmerising display, passing 35km in 1:42:07, slowing a little but still on for a world record.

As the two men passed The Monument, Kipchoge removed his arm warmers, flung them to the side of the road and surged ahead into Blackfriars underpass, emerging to kick away from the New York champion, first by a metre, then by 10m, then more.

Kipchoge kicked on to pass 40km in 1:56:49, saying afterwards: "I realised at 40km that I was 20 seconds off the world record so I tried to squeeze but it wasn't possible to break the record today."

Kipchoge had Birdcage Walk to himself as he chased Kimetto's mark of 2:02:57. Running smoothly with a smile playing on his lips, the defending champion turned into The Mall, the crowd willing him on.

It was not to be. With six wins out of seven marathons, his masterful performance surely cements his place among the great, although his best may yet be to come.

Biwott also set a PB as he clocked 2:03:51 to join a select club of four men who have run 26.2 miles in under 2:04.

Bekele was third in 2:06:36 - an impressive achievement given that he reckoned to be just 90 per cent fit.

Behind them, a thrilling race was unfolding among the British athletes looking for Olympic selection. The first two Britons to finish within the 2:14 qualifying time were guaranteed to go to Rio and the first to book his seat was Callum Hawkins, who finished in 2:10:52, good enough for eighth overall.

Making his marathon debut, Tsegai Tewelde was next home in 2:12:23, finishing 12th, while Callum's older brother, Derek, was third Brition in 2:12:57, 14th overall.