Aron Kifle wins the Cross Internacional de Atapuerca (© Ricardo Ordonez)
The Gran Premio Caceres Campo a Traves, the final leg of this season's World Athletics Cross Country Tour, again brings together solid fields and interesting races are on the cards on Sunday (6).
Kifle the man to beat
Aron Kifle should be regarded as the favourite in the men's 10,000m event. The 24-year-old Eritrean has just missed the medals twice in global championships as he finished fourth at the 2018 World Half Marathon Championships in Valencia and the following year he also had to settle for the fourth place at the last edition of the World Cross Country Championships held in Aarhus.
Kifle has performed a number of times on Spanish soil and has made the podium in some of the finest cross country permits such as Elgoibar, Alcobendas and Atapuerca, where he took a convincing win last November. More recently, Kifle came fifth at the Campaccio event in early January and will be competing for the first time since then on Sunday.
Thierry Ndikumwenayo might well be his toughest opponent. The Spain-based Burundian clocked a 10km PB of 28:04 last Sunday in Castellon, where he trains. The 24-year-old also finished in the top-10 in Aarhus, with a ninth place to his credit, and competed four times in late 2021 on Spanish ground, topped by a sixth place in Atapuerca. There he was clearly beaten by Uganda's third-placed Joel Ayeko, who will also be in contention on Sunday. The Aarhus 10th-place finisher also made the podium in Soria and will try to conclude the cross country season in style.
Eritrea's Yemane Hailesilassie will complete the African contingent on show. Fifth at the Tokyo Olympics in the 3000m steeplechase, the 24-year-old lives in Madrid where he trains under the guidance of Jeronimo Bravo. Hailesilassie competed last Wednesday at the World Athletics Indoor Tour Gold meeting in Madrid in the 3000m, where he came 13th in 7:53.79, although his sights are set on the World Championships in Oregon in his specialist event.
The fight to be the first European home should be thrilling between the local hope Nassim Hassaous and France's Felix Bour. Both of them will turn 28 years of age later this month and were only separated by two seconds at last December's European Championships in Dublin, where they finished seventh and eighth respectively.
Wide open contest
The women's 9000m competition features a leading quintet in the Kenyan duo of Eva Cherono and Loice Chemnung, Ethiopia's Likina Amebaw Ayel, Turkey's Yasemin Can and Slovenia's Klara Lukan.
Cherono is a top-10 finisher of the Aarhus World Championships where she placed eighth. She also enjoyed a fine 2021 season and lowered her 5000m lifetime best to 14:30.77 in Brussels but should improve on the fitness she showed at the Campaccio permit as the Kenyan couldn't go beyond 10th place on that occasion. Chemnung, meanwhile, is a 14:43.65 5000m specialist and will be competing on Spanish soil for the first time.
As for Amebaw, the Spain-based Ethiopian has had a busy cross country season, performing nine times with a victory in Oeiras and additional podium berths in Soria, Alconbendas, Venta de Banos and Albufeira last Sunday. The 24-year-old currently ranks joint second in this season's World Cross Country Tour.
Can leads the European challenge, although the four-time European cross country champion wasn't able to finish higher than 14th in Dublin last December. Watch out too for the rising Lukan as the 21-year-old Slovenian is the reigning European U23 silver medallist and defeated Cherono easily in Campaccio. More recently, the European U23 5000m silver medallist has shown great form by placing third at the Cinque Mulini permit and winning in Rovereto last month.
The top Spaniards will also take part with 9:27.53 3000m steeplechaser Irene Sanchez-Escribano leading the cast alongside two emerging distance athletes, Carla Gallardo and Cristina Ruiz, who signed a 1-2 at the national championships on 30 January.
Weather forecasters call for a sunny day, with the thermometer reaching 12ºC by the time of the event.
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics