Rodrigue Kwizera wins in Alcobendas (© Asociación ADOC)
Burundi’s Rodrigue Kwizera and Ethiopia's Likina Amebaw confirmed their supremacy at the Cross Internacional de la Constitucion, the sixth Gold meeting in this season’s World Athletics Cross Country Tour, in Alcobendas, Spain, on Sunday (26).
In doing so, the 23-year-old Burundian retained his title in style while Amebaw managed her first win here after finishing third two years ago.
Held in pleasant weather conditions, the men's 10.1km contest opened with Eritrea's Filmon Kibrom taking an early lead, closely followed by Kwizera and Uganda's Martin Kiprotich. Once the third kilometre was over, the leading pack was compounded by the those three plus Eritrea's Aron Kifle, Burundi's Celestin Ndikumana, Rwanda's Yves Nimubona and the surprise Spaniard Andreu Blanes, a former world junior silver medallist in orienteering races who only took up athletics in 2018.
Kwizera moved to the front for the first time roughly 11 minutes into the race, but he didn't increase the cadence; the lead group covered the second big loop in 6:55, 12 seconds slower than the first. Despite that, Nimubona started to lose ground at halfway just before 20-year-old Kiprotich decided to increase the rhythm which could only be followed by Kwizera.
Having covered the third 2.3km lap in 6:37, Kiprotich still had Kwizera for company at the bell while Ndikumana and Kibrom were three seconds adrift of them with Blanes running alone in fifth.
On his fourth consecutive appearance in Alcobendas, Kwizera took advantage of his knowledge of the circuit to unleash a decisive change of speed with exactly one kilometre remaining. From then on, he extended his lead on Kiprotich to secure his third successive following a speedy 6:28 final lap. The in-form Kiprotich, who finished 18th at this year’s World Cross, finished second and Ndikumana broke away from Kibrom midway through the closing circuit to place third.
It means the men’s title in Alcobendas has been in Burundian hands since 2019 when Thierry Ndikumwenayo took the spoils; Uganda's Jacob Kiplimo was the last non-Burundian to win here back in 2018.
“Honestly, it was not an especially difficult triumph for me as I'm in good shape now,” said a confident Kwizera, whose next race will be in Venta de Baños on 17 December.
Italy's multiple European U20 and U23 cross-country champion Nadia Battocletti set the pace in the women’s 8.1km event. Shortly after reaching the opening kilometre, just six athletes remained in close attendance: compatriot Anna Arnaudo, the Ethiopian pair of Amebaw and Asayech Ayichew, Kenya's Lucy Mawia, Hungary's Lili Anna Vindics-Toth and France's Alessia Zarbo, the latter being the first casualty some seven minutes into the race.
The Italian's relentless cadence progressively paid off as firstly the Hungarian steeplechaser and then her compatriot Arnaudo could not live with her kind of pace and the race became a four-woman fight between Battocletti, Amebaw, Ayichew and Mawia when the clock read 11:30.
During the penultimate loop, it became apparent that Mawia hadn’t fully recovered from the injury that forced her to drop out in the closing stages last weekend in Soria and began to falter while Ayichew emerged as a strong leader and pushed hard before reaching the bell, the last circuit taking 7:37. By then, Ayichew and Amebaw led with Battocletti a couple of seconds behind, but the Italian managed to reel in the Ethiopans and catch them a few hundred metres later.
With just over a kilometre left, Battocletti's resistence came to an end. Spain-based Amebaw made her decisive move with about 700 metres to go, gradually opening a big gap on Ayichew.
Amebaw eventually crossed the line five seconds clear of her compatriot thanks to a 7:18 superb last circuit. Ayichew placed second, 12 seconds ahead of Battocletti with Mawia taking fourth spot.
“I felt a bit uneasy and heavy at the beginning but then I began to feel much better,” said Amebaw. “I like this kind of course, full of ups and downs, I really enjoy them; my next cross country competitions will be in Aranda de Duero (3 December) and Cantimpalos (10 December) before resuming the World Athletics Cross Country Tour in 2024. I'm also targeting a quick time over 10km in the coming months.”
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics
1 Likina Amebaw (ETH) 26:33
2 Asayech Ayichew (ETH) 26:38
3 Nadia Battocletti (ITA) 26:50
4 Lucy Mawia (KEN) 27:26
5 Anna Arnaudo (ITA) 27:43
6 Cristina Ruiz (ESP) 27:58
7 Lili Anna Vindics-Toth (HUN) 28:12
8 Claudia Estévez (ESP) 28:30
9 Azucena Díaz (ESP) 28:40
10 Alessia Zarbo (FRA) 28:44
1 Rodrigue Kwizera (BDI) 29:30
2 Martin Kiprotich (UGA) 29:38
3 Celestin Ndikumana (BDI) 29:52
4 Filmon Kibrom (ERI) 29:54
5 Aron Kifle (ERI) 30:07
6 Andreu Blanes (ESP) 30:15
7 Yves Nimubona (RWA) 30:28
8 David Bascuñana (ESP) 30:52
9 Oliver Löfqvist (SWE) 30:56
10 Roberto Aláiz (ESP) 31:12