Australia’s double Olympic Games 50km Race Walk silver medallist Jarred Tallent and Portugal’s Ines Henriques captured 20km victories in 1:21:21 and 1:29:30 at the 27th Gran Premio Cantones de Marcha, the Spanish leg in 2013 IAAF Race Walking Challenge, on Saturday (1).
On a cloudy day that was ideal for endurance events, with the thermometer reading around 14 degrees Celsius during the races, Tallent and Henriques both made decisive moves at similar points in their races, before pulling away over the final 5km to win by the handsome margins of 24 and 17 seconds respectively.
The victories put Tallent and Henriques into the lead in this year’s IAAF Race Walking Challenge with just two races left on the calendar.
Tallent fifth time lucky
Over the 1km flat circuit on Spain’s Atlantic coast in the north of the country, the men’s contest opened at a modest pace as the first kilometre was covered in 4:22.
By 5km, 17 walkers were still in the leading group which passed through that checkpoint in 21:13.
However, the rhythm became increasingly faster and the second 5km section took just 20:34, with 15 men passing the halfway point together in 41:47.
Among the pack were pre-race favourites Tallent, Vieira and Colombia’s 2011 World Championships bronze medallist Luis Fernando Lopez, who all took turns at the front.
The pace continued to get faster over the third quarter of the race but just after crossing the 15km point in 1:01:47, the 28-year-old Tallent broke away from the leading pack and made his bid for glory with a 3:49 16th kilometre.
Behind him, Vieira, Lopez and Tallent’s Australian compatriot Dane Bird-Smith started what was to be the battle for the minor medals, although the latter started to lose ground at around 17km.
Tallent’s final 5km section was particularly strong with a swift 19:29 split, which proved to be simply too fast for his pursuers to match before he crossed the line in 1:21:21.
This was Tallent’s first success in La Coruna, a city which has become one of the iconic venues around the world for walking. In his four previous outings, the Australian had not done better than his fifth place back in 2010.
“I had competed here several times here but I hadn’t managed to win yet in La Coruna. I decided to save my energies for the last five kilometres and my tactics paid off,” commented Tallent.
"I'm so thrilled to be back on top of the podium. All the hard work we put in the last month in St Moritz has really paid off. To race so well over the shorter 20km distance gives me huge confidence that my World Championship aspirations are on track."
Tallent confirmed that: “Unlike last year at the London Olympics, I’ll solely focus on my strongest event in Moscow, the 50km Walk. Having been twice Olympic silver medallist in Beijing and London, plus also World bronze in Daegu, the only medal lacking at home is gold, and so I’ll go for it in Moscow”.
The Australian has just spent three-and-a-half weeks at altitude in Saint Moritz and now returns there for another four weeks.
Vieira, now 37, got rid of Lopez on the penultimate lap to finish second in 1:21:45 with the South American, who turns 34 on Monday, third in 1:21:51.
The battle to be the first Spaniard home was won by the2003 European Athletics Junior Championships 10,000m bronze medallist Francisco Arcilla, who finished sixth with a career best of 1:22:23.
Henriques in a class of her own, Gonzalez surprises
In contrast to men’s event, the women’s race witnessed a good pace from the gun by the leading pack.
The 5km point was reached in 22:27, with six women in the leading group comprising the Spanish trio of Raquel Gonzalez, Beatriz Pascual and Julia Takacs, the Portuguese pair of Ines Henriques and Vera Santos plus Czech Republic’s Lucie Pelantova of the Czech Republic, the latter being the first to lose ground shortly afterwards.
Halfway was reached in 44:57 with the surprise 23-year-old Gonzalez making most of the pace. Firstly Santos and then Pascual began to fade after a 4:24 12th kilometre.
Henriques found another gear at 16km to leave Gonzalez and Takacs behind and the Portuguese walker added to her advantage over the closing kilometres to build a 17-second margin by the end, crossing the line in 1:29:30 to secure her second victory at this season’s IAAF Race Walking Challenge after her early success in Chihuahua.
The 2011 European Athletics U23 Championships silver medallist Takacs stopped the clock at 1:29.47 while Gonzalez was rewarded for her hard work and audacity in the first half of the race with a huge best of 1:30:11 in third place.
“It’s so emotional for me to win here as I consider La Coruña as a Mecca for race walking events. In addition to my win, I’m also very satisfied as I walked pretty good technically,” said a delighted Henriques.
“I’ll now take an easy week before spending four weeks in Spain at altitude in Sierra Nevada and Navacerrada. Possibly, I’ll next compete at the Portuguese champs over 10km before travelling to Moscow where my target is a top six spot. It won’t be an easy task as there will be several strong squads such as the Russians and the Chinese but also the Spaniards and my compatriots,” added the 33-year-old winner.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF