Moses Masai just holds off Charles Kamathi in the 25th edition of the ‘Dam tot Dam’ 10 Miles (Tom Metiary) © Copyright

Masai and Cheruiyot favourites to take New Year spoils in Madrid - San Silvestre Vallecana Preview

Madrid, SpainKenya’s reigning World 10,000m bronze medallist Moses Masai and his compatriot Vivian Cheruiyot, the current World 5000m champion will kick off the ‘San Silvestre Vallecana’ -  which is an IAAF Silver Label Road Race - as the hot favourites despite the presence of top local athletes at this 10km road race to be held in the Spanish capital on the evening of New Year’s Eve.

Can Sánchez threaten Masai?

The 23-year-old Masai’s background impresses as he holds a stunning 26:49.20 10,000 PB on the track alongside a 27:22 best performance on the roads. In addition, Linet Masai’s older brother has steadily stepped up a place over the last major championships he has contested since he took fifth at the 2008 World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh, then came 4th at the Beijing Olympics over 10,000m to finally snatch bronze at last summer’s Worlds in Berlin over the same distance.

More recently, Masai has been successful at two road races held in The Netherlands, firstly last 19 Sept at the ‘Dam tot Damloop’ 10 miles when he clocked 45:16 and also in Groningen on 11 October over four miles with a 17:29 clocking to his credit.

But Masai should face in Madrid the stiff opposition provided by the athletes who led Spain to a third consecutive European Cross Country gold team medal earlier this month in Dublin in the guise of newly-minted continental champion Alemayehu Bezabeh and Sergio Sánchez, who took fourth on that occasion.

The 27-year-old Sánchez found some consolation to his out of medal place in Dublin by grabbing an unexpected win at the Venta de Baños XC race the following Sunday (20 Dec) clearly ahead of Kenya’s Joseph Ebuya and Bezabeh himself. All the talk in the prior days to the race is about Sánchez’s chances to give Masai a scare since the Spaniard is in the form of his life and his knowledge of the circuit might be an advantage for him. “I’ll go out to win,” declared the in-form Sánchez.

As for Bezabeh, the Ethiopian-born rising star will be eager to improve on his runner-up places he managed both in 2007 and 2008 although a cold he suffered after Dublin plus a reasonable relaxation after such a brilliant success make him less dangerous than usual.

Spain’s European 5000m champion Jesús España and his countryman Chema Martínez, a creditable eight at the Berlin Worlds in the Marathon, will also be in the hunt for a podium place.

However, the course record doesn’t seem to be in jeopardy as both Eliud Kipchoge and Zersenay Tadese were credited a sizzling 26:54 back in 2006 taking advantage of the downhill circuit - 705m of altitude at the start, a lowest point of 610 at eight kilometres and an uphill final two kilometres to conclude at 650m.

Cheruiyot to keep Augusto at bay

The women’s section also offers an interesting line-up as the field includes two reigning World championships from Berlin such as Kenya’s 5000m victor Vivian Cheruiyot and Spain’s 3000m Steeplechase gold medallist Marta Domínguez plus the in-form Portuguese Jessica Augusto, the 2008 European Cross Country silver medallist.

However, while the 26-year-old Kenyan –already a winner here in 2007 - has shown fine form on her two cross country appearances in Leffrinckroucke (29 November) and Alcobendas (6 December) with a two-win tally, Domínguez is still rounding into form as her preparation has been largely hampered due to the huge number of tributes she has received throughout the following months to her Berlin success, the European Female Athlete Award among others.

Even so, the 34-year-old has raced quite a few times being seventh at her last outing in Venta de Baños. Domínguez is a three-time winner in Madrid having taken the top spot in 2002, 2003 and last year.

Tipped as the main favourite to take the European crown in Dublin a fortnight ago, the 28-year-old Augusto will try to make amends from her below-par performance in the Irish capital where she ‘only’ finished fourth leading the Portuguese squad to an overwhelming team gold medal.

Dublin disappointment aside, the autumn session for August has proved to be excellent as she won the Great North Run in South Shields with a 1:09:06 Half Marathon PB in late September before conquering another win at the opening IAAF XC leg in Oeiras and taking second behind Cheruiyot in Leffrinckroucke.

Not to be discounted for a place in the top three is Spain’s Nuria Fernández, who took fourth in Berlin over 1500m and became the fastest woman over the boards in 2009 with a 4:01.77 time.

Weather forecasters predict a cloudy day with the temperatures ranging between 6º and 9º Celsius and a 90% of rain likelihood.

Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF