A familiar site in Spain this autumn - Joseph Ebuya wins again, this time in Alcobendas (Pedro Velarde) © Copyright

Ebuya - T. Bekele clash on tap in Amorebieta – Zornotza Cross Country preview

Race organisers have assembled a solid collection of the international cross country crème for the ‘54th  Cross Internacional Zornotza’ which takes place on Sunday (6) in Amorebieta (Spain) barely 25 kilometres away from the world-famous Guggenheim museum.

In the men’s race, it is very much a matter of Ethiopia’s Tariku Bekele versus a slew of top Kenyans athletes headed by the in-form Joseph Ebuya, last year’s winner Micah Kogo and Moses Masai. Unlike previous seasons, the younger Bekele will be making his Cross Country debut as late as 6 January and he should be eager to take revenge of last year’s defeat in Amorebieta when he finished runner-up out-sprinted by Kogo.

2007 podium trio returns

Tariku Bekele, who will turn 21 later this month, showed a high Cross Country standard last year when taking second to his older brother Kenenisa at the IAAF permit held in Seville on his 20th birthday. However, he could not finish the race at the Worlds in Mombasa in his first appearance as a senior athlete at the championships. With regard to his track performances he grabbed a praiseworthy fifth at the Osaka Worlds in his specialist event (5000m) where he holds a PB of 12:53.81 from 2006. 

But likely the man to beat on Sunday’s is Ebuya, who completed a quality podium in 2007 taking third. The reigning World Junior 10,000m silver medallist remains unbeaten this Cross Country campaign following no less than three convincing wins on Spanish soil: Llodio EAA permit (18 November), Soria IAAF meeting (25 November) and Alcobendas (EAA 2 December). However, the triumvirate Bekele-Ebuya-Kogo might see in jeopardy a place on the podium due to the presence of Uganda’s Boniface Kiprop, and Kenyan Masai.

Kiprop returning to form

Absent last year, the reigning Commonwealth 10,000m champion Kiprop has tasted every honour spot in his four previous and consecutive appearances here, ranking 4-1-3-2 from 2003 to 2006 respectively. After a below-par 2007 campaign where he dropped out at the Mombasa World Cross Country Championships and only managed a sixth place showing at the African Championships over 10,000m as a best result, Kiprop has raced twice this Cross Country season with a win (18 November, Fontenay Les Briis) and a third place effor in Leffrinckroucke the following week. As for Masai, he made a major breakthrough on the track last summer by clocking an impressive 26:49.20 at 10,000m and should be looking to improve his fifth place spot from last year.

España leads Spanish challenge

The Spanish charge will be led by reigning European 5000m champion Jesús España. An accomplished track specialist, he also showed Cross Country ability by placing sixth at the recent European Championships in Toro one month ago. The 29-year-old is fresh from a fourth place at the ‘San Silvestre Vallecana’ when he clocked 28:46 for the 10k road event. The Moroccan-born Ayad Lamdassem will also carry Spanish hopes as he beat España at the Venta de Baños permit (16 December). Zimbabwe’s Cuthbert Nyasango, Eritrea’s Yared Asmeron and Spain’s 2003 World 3000m Steeplechase bronze medallist Eliseo Martín and gold team medallist in Toro José Ríos might well complete a classy top-ten.

Women’s race – Cheruiyot unthreatened

The women’s event should witness an overwhelming win for Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot, who is also the defending champion. The Kenyan ace’s main opposition should come from Portugal’s Leonor Carneiro, who finished 28th at the Europeans in Toro after her fine beginning to the Cross Country campaign with a win in Amora and a fourth place at the inaugural IAAF permit in Oeiras under her belt following her Marathon debut in Berlin where she accomplished 2:31:41 for eighth.

15 years ago...

Amorebieta hosted the IAAF World Cross Country championships back in 1993. That year the victors were Kenya’s William Sigei and Portugal’s Albertina Dias while a little-known legend-to be, Britain’s World Marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe placed 18th as a 19-year-old in her international senior debut.

For Sunday, weather forecasters predict a partly cloudy day with temperatures ranging from 7 to 14º C with a 60% chance of rain.

Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF