Timothy Toroitich wins the men's race in Elgoibar (© Alfambra Fundación ANOC)
The 32ndCross Internacional de Italica in Santiponce on the outskirts of the Spanish city of Seville, an IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting, will see Uganda’s Timothy Toroitich and Ethiopia’s Hiwot Ayalew start as favourites on Sunday (19).
The pair won the famous, and high quality, race in the Basque town of Elgoibar last Sunday and will be looking to maintain their momentum.
The men’s 10.8km event should be a rematch of the Elgoibar contest as Toroitich and Kenya’s Emmanuel Bett, second on that occasion, will clash again.
Uganda’s rising star will try to follow in the footsteps of his countryman Moses Kipsiro, the last non-Kenyan winner in Santiponce, who had consecutive wins in 2008 and 2009.
Toroitich’s form has gradually improved in his Spanish outings over the winter and he will be the man to beat, despite a powerful Kenyan armada.
The 22-year-old kicked off the 2013-14 cross-country season with a relatively modest fourth place at the inaugural IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting in Atapuerca on 17 November before making the podium the following week in Alcobendas where he came third.
Into 2014, and Toroitich took second in Amorebieta before finally winning in Elgoibar.
Bett, the fastest man in the world over 10,000m in 2012, finished second in Atapuerca and had a solid win in Alcobendas, beating Toroitich on both occasions.
Earlier this month, the 30-year-old Bett finished third at the Antrim IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting which means he has made the podium on all four of his appearances on the classy European circuit this winter.
Bett will be accompanied by his compatriot, 2011 world cross-country silver medallist Paul Tanui, who managed that feat in the Southern city of Punta Umbria, some 70 miles away from Seville.
Tanui also succeeded on the track last year and took the bronze medal in the 10,000m at last summer’s IAAF World Championships.
However, there is still a question mark over Tanui’s form since Sunday will mark his season opener. The same goes for his fellow Kenyan, Olympic steeplechase bronze medallist Abel Mutai.
Local interest will be represented by the in-form Ayad Lamdassem, fresh from a creditable fourth in Elgoibar, in addition to his third place the week before in Amorebieta and the second place he managed at the San Silvestre Vallecana 10km road race in Madrid on New Year’s Eve.
Who can stop Ayalew?
The women’s 8km contest also offers a quality field headed by the Ethiopian pair of world cross-country silver medallist Hiwot Ayalew and 18-year-old Alemitu Haroye, who bagged the bronze medal in the junior race at the World Cross Country Championships in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz last March.
This pair proved to be in stellar form last Sunday when they came in first and second in Elgoibar, comfortably ahead of a couple of quality Kenyans, Magadalene Masai and Mercy Cherono.
Ayalew is looking for her fifth successive cross-country win after victories in Atapuerca (17 November), Leffrinckoucke (24 November), San Giorgio Su Legnano (6 January) and Elgoibar (12 January).
In addition, the in-form 23-year-old Ethiopian should be eager to make the Italica podium for the first time as she had to settle for fourth place on her only previous appearance here, two years ago.
The two other Ethiopians on the start line will be the Spain-based Rehima Jewar and Trihas Gebre.
World 5000m silver medallist Cherono will have a tough task to maintain the Kenyan supremacy after six years of winning the women’s race in Santiponce, but she could improve on her two previous outings this winter; a third spot in Atapuerca and a fourth place in Elgoibar.
Spain’s Alessandra Aguilar, a creditable fifth at last summer’s World Championships in the marathon, leads the domestic challenge.
Alba Garcia, Marta Silvestre and Lidia Rodriguez, like Aguilar, will be also hoping for a strong show on home soil.
Weather forecasters predict a partially cloudy day on Sunday with the thermometer around 11-13 degrees Celsius range but there is also a reasonable possibility of rain and some strong winds.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF