Beatrice Chebet wins at the 18th Cross Internacional de Atapuerca (© Ricardo Ordonez)
World cross country champions Beatrice Chebet and Jacob Kiplimo headline the fields for the Cross Internacional de Atapuerca, this season’s second World Athletics Cross Country Tour Gold fixture, on Sunday (29).
Held near the northern Spanish city of Burgos, the event features the most prominent line-up so far this season.
The men's 9km contest looks set to be a thrilling showdown between Uganda's Kiplimo and Burundi’s 2022-23 Cross Country Tour winner Rodrigue Kwizera, with Eritrea's Aron Kifle also among the leading contenders
Kiplimo kicked off his 2023 season in style by taking the gold medal at the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst in February and he went on to improve his 5000m lifetime best in Oslo thanks to an impressive 12:41.73 clocking for second.
But the 2020 world half marathon champion then sustained a hamstring injury during a speed training session and was forced to withdraw from the World Championships in Budapest, where he had hoped to contest the 5000m and 10,000m.
The 22-year-old is now said to be fully recovered from that injury and he will try to grab his second victory in Atapuerca after his 2018 success. Sunday will mark Kiplimo's 11th appearance on Spanish soil, where he has always placed first or second, with his victories including wins at the Cross Country Tour meetings in Soria, Alcobendas and Seville.
Yet he will face stiff opposition from Kwizera, who dominated the previous campaign with four wins out of six Cross Country Tour Gold outings. Owner of a 26:56 10km PB, the 23-year-old finished eighth in Bathurst and improved to seventh place in the 10,000m final in Budapest.
Kwizera is coached by Spain's Jose Ortuno in Castellon and he will be competing for the first time since Budapest. He will be joined by his compatriot Celestin Ndikumana, fresh from a clear win at the Cross Country Tour Gold season opener in Amorebieta last weekend, while the Eritrean squad features Kifle and Merhawi Mebrahtu, who was second in Amorebieta.
Kifle, the 2018 world half marathon bronze medallist in Valencia, will compete in Atapuerca for the sixth time. He won the 2021 edition and placed third in 2017, 2018 and 2022. The Madrid-based 25-year-old has had two lacklustre seasons, but he seems set to bounce back strongly at one of his favourite events.
Uganda's Leonard Chemutai, who was third in Amorebieta, will also be in contention on Sunday alongside Bahrain's Birhanu Balew, 10th in the 10,000m in Budapest.
The Spanish charge will be headed by Abdessamad Oukhelfen and Nassim Hassaous, who placed fifth and eight respectively last year and have shown fine fitness at this early stage of the season, plus Sergio Paniagua, fifth in Amorebieta last weekend.
Kenya's Chebet starts as a strong favourite in the women's 8km contest. After claiming her world cross country crown in Bathurst, the 23-year-old got 5000m bronze at the World Championships in Budapest and then completed a global medal treble in 2023 by gaining another gold – this time in the 5km – at the World Road Running Championships in Riga.
She also set an impressive 14:05.92 5000m lifetime best at the Wanda Diamond League Final in September, which would have been a world record just three months prior. The Commonwealth Games 5000m champion is the defending champion in Atapuerca and will look for back to back titles in the company of her fellow Kenyans Edinah Jebitok, who finished eighth in Bathurst, and Lucy Mawia, who placed third in Amorebieta last weekend.
The Ethiopian challenge will be provided by Likina Amebaw and Lemlem Nibret. They fought fiercely for the win in Amorebieta, with Amebaw eventually prevailing over her younger compatriot after a thrilling sprint finish.
Uganda's Sarah Chelangat should also be in the hunt for a podium place after lowering her lifetime bests last season to 8:32.53 (3000m) and 14:40.88 (5000). The 22-year-old competed over 10,000m in Budapest, where she finished 10th.
British 3000m steeplechase record-holder Aimee Pratt will also be on show, as will a large Spanish armada including 5000m specialist Marta Garcia (15:02.11 PB) and Esther Navarrete, fresh from a half marathon PB of 1:09:58 in Valencia, plus 3000m steeplechasers Irene Sanchez-Escribano, Carolina Robles and European U23 bronze medallist Marta Serrano. Majida Maayouf, who received Spanish nationality last June, is a 2:21:01 marathon runner and should also be targeting a top 10 spot.
More than 5000 runners from 15 countries will take part in the event, which promises to be an athletics festival on Sunday. Weather forecasters predict a rainy and windy day with temperatures ranging between 11-13°C during the races.
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics