Kenya’s Lucas Rotich and Spain’s Alessandra Aguilar clinched narrow victories at the ‘31th Cross Internacional de Venta de Baños' held Sunday (19) on a frozen morning with the thermometer marking 2ºC below zero.
The men’s event witnessed the dominance of a new crop of Kenyan talents led by the 20-year-old Rotich who outsprinted his compatriot Vincent Kiprop Chepkok while the in-form Spaniard Aguilar managed her third win this cross country campaign ahead of the reigning European 1500m champion Nuria Fernández, also of Spain.
MEN - Clean sweep of medals for the Kenyan squad
The men’s race, contested over a quite flat 10,575m course, featured the full Spanish squad which grabbed the European Cross Country team bronze medal a week ago in Albufeira headed by the individual silver medallist Ayad Lamsassem. In addition, the line-up also included Spain’s reigning European Marathon silver medallist Chema Martínez, who was fresh from a below par marathon last Sunday (12 Dec.) when he clocked 2:17:50 in Castellón.
The powerful local contingent would fight with a triumvirate of young Kenyans made up of the 2008 World Junior XC bronze medallist Rotich (a 12:55.06 5000m performer), the 2007 World Junior XC silver medallist Chepkok, who ran an impressive 7:31.41 time for the 3000m last summer, plus the reigning World Junior 5000m silver medallist John Kipkoech, holder of a remarkable 7:32.72 3000m effort.
The race opened quite cautiously, the Kenyans didn’t seem interested in stepping up the pace and it was Javier Guerra and Ricardo Serrano who ruled the event in the early stages. By the third kilometre the rhythm was still comfortable and no less than 17 athletes remained in the leading group.
Wearing a woollen hat to avoid the extreme cold, it was Rotich the first Kenyan who moved up to the front in the fourth kilometre but the 2.1km lap splits of 6:46 and 6:43 indicated the real race was still to get underway.
A 6:24 circuit by Rotich was enough to whittle down the leading group to eight units, the major casualty being Jesús España who was a creditable ninth last Sunday in Albufeira.
Rotich was then joined in his pacing duties by Chepkok, taking turns in the lead to destroy immediately any opposition apart from the third Kenyan Kipkoech and Lamdassem, the quartet being timed at a brisk 6:14 for the penultimate loop.
There were no major changes over the closing lap which was covered in a frantic 6:01 and they all faced the last 300m virtually balanced inside the track. With some 200m left the Moroccon-born Lamdassem lost ground, Kipkoech also faded a bit and the win became a two-horse battle between Rotich and Chepkok with the former prevailing in style by one second, 32:20 and 32:21 their respective times, while Kipkoech completed a 1-2-3 for Kenya four seconds adrift the victor.
It’s worth mentioning the 11th spot managed by Spain’s Abdelaziz Merzougui, fresh from his European Junior Cross Country title in Albufeira last weekend. The Moroccon-born raising star is a training mate of Lamdassem in the city of Lleida where both work under the guidance of Antonio Cánovas.
WOMEN - Aguilar’s front tactics pays off, too cold for Muriuki – women’s contest
The women’s 6775m race had been billed on the eve as a fascinating duel between Kenya’s Margaret Muriuki, sixth placed at the last World Cross Country championships in Bydgoszcz and two top-ten athletes from last Sunday’s Europeans in the guise of Aguilar and Portugal’s Sara Moreira, also the current European 5000m bronze medallist from Barcelona.
Right from the start the 32-year-old Aguilar – already winner in Quintanar and Llodio this XC campaign – took command of the race to set a fast pace which only Muriuki and Moreira were able to live with.
The Spaniard’s relentless rhythm proved to be too strong for the 25-year-old Portuguese who began to lose metres with the clock reading seven minutes, while the Kenyan was also unable to stay at Aguilar’s shoulder beyond the third kilometre.
Some ten minutes into the race Aguilar was a lonesome leader while Moreira caught a fading Muriuki soon afterwards. Way back travelled the Spanish pair of Diana Martín and Nuria Fernández, members of the Spanish squad which won team bronze in Albufeira.
For much of the last lap the gap between Aguilar and Moreira was seven seconds but that margin started to decrease as the end of the race was approaching. The thrilling closing metres offered an ambitious Moreira trying to pip Aguilar on the track but the real surprise came from Fernández whose late burst of speed led her to overtake firstly Muriuki, later Martín and finally Moreira over the finish line, the first three being only separated by two seconds at the end.
A faltering Muriuki had to settle for fifth at the tape and she had to be treated for hypothermia on the ambulance.
Aguilar said: “After the Europeans, I felt a bit tired this week. I have had a quiet week in terms of training to be ready for today but even so the closing stages were tough as my energy started to run out. With a top-ten girl from Bydgoszcz (2010 WXC) like Muriuki in contention, my pre-race target was to make the podium but I knew I had my chance by pushing hard from the beginning. Honestly, I’m sure the frozen day has hampered the Kenyan’s chances. I’ll next run at the IAAF XC permit in Edinburgh next Saturday 8 January” confirmed Aguilar.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
1. Lucas Kimeli Rotich (Kenya) 32:20
2. Vincent Kiprop Chepkok (Kenya) 32:21
3. John Kipkoech (Kenya) 32:24
4. Ayad Lamdassem (Spain) 32:34
5. Ricardo Serrano (Spain) 33:08
6. Chema Martínez (Spain) 33:11
7. Jesús España(Spain) 33:17
8. David Solís (Spain) 33:26
1. Alessandra Aguilar (Spain) 23:19
2. Nuria Fernández (Spain) 23:20
3. Sara Moreira (Portugal) 23:21
4. Diana Martín (Spain) 23:24
5. Margaret Muriuki (Kenya) 23:40
6. Ana Dias (Portugal) 24:02
7. Cristina Jordán (Spain) 24:18
8. Irene Alfonso (Spain) 24:46