The 37th edition of the Marseille-Cassis 20km, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, will see Kenyan runners Titus Mbishei and Peres Jepchirchir defend their crowns on Sunday (25).
Mbishei took the victory last year crossing the line in 59:12. The 24-year-old is certainly familiar with the city of Marseille, where the race starts, as it was where he also won and set his 10km personal best of 27:32 in 2011.
This year, Mbishei ran a 10,000m personal best of 27:31:48 on the track and finished 10th at the Valencia Half Marathon in 1:01:47 just last weekend.
The silver medallist in the junior men’s race at the 2009 IAAF World Cross Country Championships should be a very strong contender to retain his title despite the presence of so many high quality runners.
However, his compatriot Edwin Kipyego is probably the race favourite.
He set an impressive new best in the Copenhagen Half Marathon last month when finishing third in 59:30. He was then runner-up in Rennes over 10km in 28:19 two weeks ago.
Kipyego also knows about the challenging course along France’s Mediterranean coastline after winning three years ago in 58:16, just five seconds outside the course record set the year before by Ethiopia’s Atsedu Tsegay, who ran 58:11 in 2011.
Another good candidate for victory is Vincent Yator. The 26 year-old Kenyan won the Paris Half Marathon in 1:00:12 last March before clocking his best of 59:55 over 13.1 miles when finishing fourth in Yangzhou a month later.
Nevertheless, he didn’t shown his best form in his latest outing, finishing 13th in Valencia last week-end.
In addition to Mbishei, Kipyego and Yator, further Kenyans who could enter the reckoning include Cosmas Birech, who placed fourth in the Lille Half Marathon last September in 1:00:23, and Emmanuel Bor, who ran a 1:01:06 half marathon personal best to win in Porto last September.
Jepchirchir has course record chances
On the women’s side, Kenya’s Peris Jepchirchir will attempt to retain her title. Last year she clocked 1:10:04, at the time rather adrift of the women’s course record by Mercy Kibarus when she ran 1:07:58 in 2012.
However, Jepchirchir has been in great form this autumn, taking the victories and running personal best times at the Prague 10km in 30:55 and at the Mattoni Usti nad Labem Half Marathon in a massive 1:07:17 and Kibarus’ course record
Although repeat victories have been quite common in the men’s race, Jepchirchir will also be aiming to become the first woman to win back-to-back Marseille-Cassis titles since Morocco’s Hassania Darami won a second time – when the race was a half marathon – in 1988.
Bahrain’s Shitaye Eshete should be Jepchirchir’s main rival.
Better known as a track runner, Eshete was both sixth in the 10,000m at London 2012 Olympics Games and at 2013 IAAF World Championships, Eshete moved up to the half marathon this autumn and was second in Usti Nad Labem in 1:10:14, albeit almost three minutes behind Jepchirchir.
Ethiopia’s Bekelech Bedada and Kenya’s Gladys Kipsoi will also be in contention for a place on the podium.
The former was runner-up last year and finished third in 1:10:13 in the Paris Half Marathon last March while the latter was third at the 2013 Marseille-Cassis 20km and won the Paris Half Marathon in 2013.
There is no doubt that the Marseille-Cassis 20km is a hard race. The start takes place near the well-known Marseille’s Velodrome Stadium and then the course goes along the Mediterranean before a tough 327-metre climb up to the Col de la Gineste halfway through the race.
Runners then hurtle down a long descent towards the finish line in the port town of Cassis. Approximately 15,000 runners are entered in this year’s race.
Quentin Guillon for the IAAF