The 35th edition of the well-known Marseille-Cassis 20km, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, could see a changing of the guard as Ethiopians bid to take both the men’s and women’s titles on Sunday (27).
Neither the 2012 winners, the Kenyan pair of Edwin Kipyego and Mercy Kibarus, return to defend their crowns so, in their absence, Ethiopia’s Tesfaye Abera and Worknesh Degefa take the role of being the race favourites.
Abera, 21, has good credentials on French roads and was a convincing winner of the famous 10km race in Langueux back in June, thanks to a devastating surge in the last part of the race.
Over 20km, he set his personal best last year in Nice Half Marathon when he finished third in 1:00:32. On that occasion, he beat his compatriot Mulle Wasihum, who will also compete in Marseille.
Another Ethiopian candidate for victory is Dawit Wolde. Better known as a track runner – he was the 2007 IAAF World Youth Championships 1500m bronze medallist, a London 2012 Olympic Games 1500m semi-finalist and ran 3:34.64 this year – Wolde also dabbles in road races and has a 1:00:46 Half Marathon to his name.
Kenya’s chances will be defended by Silas Kipruto, second in the Berlin Half Marathon this year in 1:00:12, which is not far from his impressive best mark of 59:39, set three years ago in Milan, which makes him the fastest man in the field.
France’s James Theuri and Eritrea’s Dawit Weldeselasie, eighth in the junior men’s race at the 2013 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in March, could also have a chance of featuring high in the results.
Running as special guests will be France’s former double continental champions Mehdi Baala, the 2002 and 2006 European 1500m winner, and Marc Raquil, who won the 400m and 4x400m gold medals at the 2006 European Athletics Championships.
Degefa has course record chances
In the women’s race, Degefa is just one of three high quality Ethiopian runners.
Degefa herself ran 1:07:49 for the Half Marathon in the 2013 Rome-Ostia race, and won over the same distance in the Chinese city of Yanghzou in April, when she clocked 1:08:43.
Waganesh Mekasha set her Half Marathon personal best of 1:08.48 when winning in Marrakesh in January this year, while Ethiopian national 10,000m champion Yebrgual Melese placed third in Yanghzou in 1:09:02.
Kenya’s Cynthia Jerotich and Gladys Kipsoi might, on paper, have slower Half Marathon times than their Ethiopian rivals, with 1:09:59 and 1:09:11 respectively, but have the advantage that they know the challenging course after having placed second and third last year.
Both might change their tactics this year as, despite a strong finish, they couldn’t catch runaway leader Kibarus who eventually set a course record of 1:07:58.
The men’s record is held by Ethiopia’s Atsede Tsegay with 58:11, which he ran in 2011.
An estimated 15,000 runners will hear the gun in Marseille’s Velodrome Stadium on Sunday, and the 20km course goes along the Mediterranean Sea and has a tough 327-metre climb up to the Col de la Gineste halfway through the race before a long descent towards the port of Cassis.
The weather forecast for Sunday morning is for cloudy weather but with much less wind than recent previous editions, which could potentially lead to fast times from the leading runners.
PJ Vazel for the IAAF