Kenya dominated the 32th edition of international Marseille-Cassis Classique (20.308m) as Philemon Limo and Diane Chepkemoi outclassed their Ethiopians rivals in extremely wet weather conditions.
The Marseille-Cassis Classique is an IAAF Silver Label Road Race.
Kenyan outsider John Kyui, winner of the 2006 edition, went out hard immediately from the start of the race which took place at the Stadium Velodrome in Marseille, taking an early lead several metres ahead of a pack of 17 runners. One of the favourites, Tanzanian Samwel Shauri, second last year, was behind this group and appeared already out of contention.
After about 5km, in the Carrefour de Lumini, Kyui was caught and France's Abraham Kiprotich took the lead. Heavy rain and a strong wind decimated this group reducing it to just 9 individuals before the ascent of the Col de la Gineste (327m climb), and a Kenya-Ethiopia match was confirmed as just four runners emerged in the lead after this the hardest part of the course.
The wind then calmed down as Philemon Limo, Robert Ndiwa, Belete Assefa and Yrsaw Tegene took to the road along the Mediterranean Sea. At the midway point, on top of the Gineste, the quartet ignored the first refreshment station.
After the Plateau de la Carpagne, Limo injected some acceleration in the long downhill stretch a move, which was to be fatal for the race ambitions of Tegene.
Now as the wind and rain blew even harder than ever, Belete, 20, was hiding behind his Kenyan rival with the hope of becoming the first Ethiopian man to win the Marseille-Cassis Classique. And with some 8km to go Ndiwa was running a few metres behind this leading duo.
48min after the start, Belete was showing the first signs of fatigue and was starting to check over his shoulder to evaluate the opposition. In contrast 3km before the finish, Limo was still displaying a long and easy-looking stride and was on his way down to Cassis.
The Côte des Pompiers, the last difficult section with a short but brutal climb increased the leader’s gap. Belete, with a lack of concentration missed a turn and had to retrace his steps, and was now definitively out of contention for the victory, while in front, Limo managed to avoid potentially slippery puddles of water on the corners of Cassis’ flooded roads.
The race record (59:01 by James Kwambai in 2002) was safe as the Kenyan, 25, crossed the finish line in 1:01:35, an impressive time considering the hostile weather conditions, a victory which confirmed his recent wins in Rennes (27:35 for 10km) and Biella (26:23 for 9.6km) earlier this month. Far adrift Belete managed to save second place crossing in 1:02:30, only 5sec ahead of Ndiwa.
Ethiopians attempted to take control of the women’s race from the start. Ermebt Bedada, winner of the Turin Half Marathon last month, was leading from her teammate Beleynesh Oljira. Three Kenyans completed the pack: Jane Kiptoo, winner in Milan, Josephine Kimuyu, winner in Saint-Denis, and the virtually unknown Diane Chepkemoi.
After 15min, Oljira took the lead from Chepkemoi, while Bedada faded to third, and by halfway, the Kenyan was an isolated leader. While entering the downhill section of the race, no opponents remained close, and even the flooded roads didn’t seem to slow down the incredible Chepkemoi who increased the gap to almost two minutes as she arrived in Cassis.
Her time was 1:10:36, probably comparable to the race record (1:08:30) set in better weather by Kenyan Susan Chepkemei ten years ago. More impressive was the margin she drew from a quality field: Oljira placed 2nd in 1:12:26, Kiptoo was 3rd in 1:12:51 and Ethiopian favourite Meseret Mengistu, the titleholder, did not finished.
Diane Chepkemoi (Born 1990) was a last minute entrant in the race and has a half marathon PB of 74:50.
Despite the terrible weather in South East of France, the Marseille-Cassis Classique was as usual a popular event with no less than 13,000 starters.
P-J Vazel for the IAAF
1 Philemon Limo KEN 01:01:35
2 Belete Assefa ETH 01:02:30
3 Robert Ndiwa KEN 01:02:35
4 Yrsaw Tegene ETH 01:03:31
5 Abraham Kiprotich FRA 01:04:16
6 Abraham Niyonkuru FRA 01:04:17
7 Stephen Kiprotich UGA 01:04:19
8 Luka Kanda KEN 01:04:31
1 Diane Chepkemoi KEN 01:10:36
2 Beleynesh Oljira ETH 01:12:26
3 Jane Kiptoo KEN 01:12:51
4 Ermebt Bedada ETH 01:13:11
5 Josephine Kimuyu KEN 01:14:28
6 Aline Camboulives FRA 01:19:25
7 Olena Burkovska UKR 01:20:12
8 Delphine Ader FRA 01:20:54