Soufiane El Bakkali and Salomé Rocha lived up to expectations at the Almond Blossom Cross Country, winning the senior races at the IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting in Albufeira on Sunday (18).
Their respective tasks were made slightly easier as a Kenyan contingent failed to make it to Portugal after running into difficulties with visas. But El Bakkali and Rocha would have been tough to beat regardless.
In the senior men’s 9.35km race, 22-year-old El Bakkali was challenged by Portuguese veteran Rui Pedro Silva, 15 years older than the Moroccan, until the last of the five laps.
El Bakkali, who had tried to lead during the early stages, explained afterwards why he soon backed off the pace. “At the beginning of the event I felt pain in my left foot,” he said. “I wanted to save myself for a quick sprint in the last meters to take the victory.”
El Bakkali crossed the finish line eight seconds ahead of Silva, who recently finished second at the Portuguese Road Race Championships. Portugal’s Tiago Costa finished a distant third with teammate Pedro Pinheiro in fourth, both finishing ahead of another veteran, Ricardo Ribas.
Rocha regains title
The women’s 6.15km event was without drama as Salomé Rocha led from the early stages to run away with the win in 20:44, 35 seconds ahead of her nearest challenger.
“I felt good from the beginning,” said Rocha, who won here in 2016 and now has the same number of Almond Blossom wins as 1988 Olympic marathon champion Rosa Mota. “The course is really challenging, but the crowd yelling for me was really, really great.”
There was a close finish for second place as Andrea Deelstra of the Netherlands and Mónica Silva both crossed the line in 21:19, but the Dutch runner was given the runner-up spot.
António Manuel Fernandes for the IAAF
1 Soufianne El Bakkali (MAR) 28:14
2 Rui Pedro Silva (POR) 28:22
3 Tiago Costa (POR) 29:03
4 Pedro Pinheiro (POR) 29:09
5 Ricardo Ribas (POR) 29:19
6 Hermano Ferreira (POR) 29:26
1 Salomé Rocha (POR) 20:44
2 Andrea Deelstra (NED) 21:19
3 Mónica Silva (POR) 21:19
4 Maria Sdawik (POL) 21:32
5 Ana Dias (POR) 21:55
6 Catarina Guerreiro (POR) 23 :25