Rodrigue Kwizera celebrates his win at the 40th Cross Internacional de la Constitucion Alcobendas (© Asociación ADOC)
Burundians Rodrigue Kwizera and Francine Niyonsaba will be among the leading contenders at the 42nd Cross Internacional de Venta de Banos, the ninth Gold leg of this season's World Athletics Cross Country Tour, on Sunday (18).
Despite having just 6500 inhabitants, the small Spanish village of Venta de Banos has hosted this top-notch cross country event since 1980.
Who can stop Kwizera?
Last year's Cross Country Tour winner Kwizera will briefly interrupt his training stint at the altitude of Sierra Nevada to compete, three weeks after his last outing in Alcobendas where the 23-year-old took a convincing win.
Kwizera, the defending champion over the 10,575m circuit, will be joined by his compatriot Agide Nduwimana, while the only other foreign competitor will be Portugal's reigning European U23 3000m steeplechase silver medallist Etson Barros. The 21-year-old finished in 47th place in his age group at the European Cross Country Championships held last Sunday in Turin.
The Spanish contingent includes Abdessamad Oukhelfen, fresh from a 10th place finish in Turin to help his country to team bronze. The 2019 U23 European cross country bronze medallist will turn 24 years of age on race day and would be happy to celebrate with a podium place.
The rising Spaniard will be joined by Nassim Hassaous, who travelled among the top 10 in Turin until half way, before finishing 25th. A third local athlete will be Adel Mechaal, the 2017 European cross country silver medallist. The 32-year-old was not selected for the Spanish team in Turin but he has proven to be in top form recently, having taken two consecutive wins in the Cantimpalos cross country event on 8 December and also at a low-key 10km road race in Ibiza two days later.
Winter debut for Niyonsaba
The women's field is headed by Olympic and world medallist Niyonsaba, who finished fifth at the Tokyo Olympics in the 10,000m with a 30:41.93 clocking. The 29-year-old also has lifetimes bests of 8:19.08 for 3000m and 14:25.34 for 5000m.
Sunday's 7975m event will mark the Burundian's first appearance since August and her third outing on Spanish soil following a 50:37 15km clocking for third place in Valencia in 2021 and a winning 32:01 time last March at a 10km race in Jaen. Niyonsaba has little experience over this surface and the event in Venta de Banos will be the second cross country race of her career.
The Spanish athletes in contention will be Irene Sanchez-Escribano, Isabel Barreiro, Carolina Robles and Marta Garcia. They are all members of the Spanish team that finished fourth in Turin after travelling for much of the race in bronze medal position.
Sanchez-Escribano is a 9:23:94 3000m steeplechase specialist and placed 15th at the European Cross Country Championships, while Barreiro finished 24th in Turin and holds a 15:27.47 5000m career best. Robles made the Tokyo Olympics 3000m steeplechase final and Garcia came 12th in the European Championships 5000m thanks to a lifetime best of 15:23.36.
Watch out too for Turkey's Emine Mechaal, the 2013 European U20 3000m silver medallist, and Spain's Laura Luengo, a consistent cross country specialist who claimed third place in Soria and finished fourth in Alcobendas earlier this season.
Weather forecasters predict a sunny day with the thermometer reaching between 8 and 10°C by the time of the event, although there will be some muddy sections following heavy rain earlier this week.
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics