Aleksey Voyevodin (RUS) celebrates winning the 50km race in Naumburg (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Voyevodin strikes again and retains World Cup 50km title in Naumburg

After a merciless battle in the sun Aleksey Voyovedin became the third walker to retain his 50km World Walking title.

Unlike18 months ago when the Russian won with ease, this time he had to dig out all he could in experience and strength to head off the plucky challenge of Caohong Lu.

Voyevodin was never troubled from the start in Turin, but  this time it took an epic last 10k battle with the Chinese to emulate the feats of Carlos Mercanario (MEX) in 1991 and 93, and three time sixties winner, Christophe Hohne of former East Germany.

Behind both, Yuriy Andronov walked a lone last quarter of the race to take a deserved third.

A late Spanish attack then appeared in the top nine with Jesus Angel Garcia in sixth after the 1997 winner was as low as 23rd at half-way.

The three countries also sorted out the places for the team trophy. Russia stood on the top of the podium with eight points; China six behind and the Spanish stroll landing them bronze with 23 points.

From the start, a Chinese trio shot away at the start like the finish line was around the first bend.

However, German Skurygin and Semyon Lovkin soon made it plain they were also in the race, even though the Russian duo were content to wait 30 metres behind.

By 5k the Chinese were through in 21:55 with the Russians 10 seconds behind.

Just after 6k, Lovkin joined the front markers going at a pace 11 minutes quicker than he had done before.

For the first time at 15k Voyovedin showed his interest, and was joined by Rafal Augustyn, making his debut, as the pair contested fourth in 66:13.

After 20k, the untested Pole fell behind, but the DQ board took its toll.

New Zealander Craig Barrett was out after settling into a comfortable top 10 spot early on.

At 27.5k the scene had changed up front. The lead group of four was now two with Voyevodin desperately trying to get in touch.

The surprise was that Shucai Xing had come off the back, especially since the Chinese had recorded a swift 3:40:00 in March, and the second fastest time of the year so far.

Also struggling was Lovkin, paying the price for his rash start, but then Aigars Fadjevs made his move, going from seventh at 25k to first halfway through lap 11, when he shot past the startled Yu.

The 2000 Olympic silver medallist didn’t feature at the front for long as Yu gathered himself and retook the lead. Voyevodin passed Fadjevs, and for the next 7k hovered perilously close to the Chinese.

As much as the Russian would have been grateful for the shoulder of Yu, the Chinese kept up the relentless pace as ticked off near perfect 11 minute, 2.5k laps and refused to let go of his lead.

Fadjevs was next to record three DQs, and a fresh charge was being mounted by Andronov as the latest Russian to fill the top three. Skurygin was headed fractionally by Stepan Yudin for fourth, and team-wise things were going well for the red vests.

At 42.5k, Yu had a mere second advantage in the fascinating duel for first, and finally with 5k left, Voyovedin glanced to his left and assessed Chinese fatigue.

The thread finally snapped at the turn for 46k when the Russian upped the falling pace by the merest notch.

A 30 metre gap quickly grew and the places were decided.

The winner was delighted at the end.

Voyovedin said: “It was not easy, but I felt better as I walked. I was much better prepared than Turin. I’m glad I was as I didn’t want to be embarrassed by the Chinese. This race is not a gamble for Athens because I was well prepared.”

“It was a difficult route, however, with a long uphill and tougher than the Paris World Championships.”

Despite their back-to-back 50k efforts, Yu didn’t believe it cost his side a team win.

He said: “Personally, I’ve been unwell and not as well prepared as I would have liked, but we always set a high tempo and try to maintain form.”