Lucy Mawia Muli in Soria (© Organisers)
Burundi’s Thierry Ndikumwenayo and Kenya’s Lucy Mawia Muli won at the Cross Internacional de Soria – the fourth Gold standard meeting of this season’s World Athletics Cross Country Tour – held at altitude (1100m) in Soria, Spain, on a sunny but windy Sunday (6).
It means the men's crown remains in Burundian hands, while Mawia retained her title in style as she was an overwhelming winner, building a huge one-minute margin over her closest pursuer.
The men's 10km event was a thriller from the beginning as Italian cross-country champion Iliass Aouani started like a bullet and was a lonesome leader barely 30 seconds into the race. The 27-year-old marathon specialist set a steady pace in the 2:48/50-per-kilometre range to cover the opening 2km loop in 5:38 while the rest of the field were 13 seconds behind, headed by Uganda's Peer Maru.
Over the following circuit, covered in 5:40, the Italian strengthened his lead to 16 seconds. By then the chasing group had been whittled down to four men: Maru, his fellow Ugandan Dismas Yeko, Eritrea's Merhawi Mebrahtu and Ndikumwenayo, who remained at the back of the chasing group.
Aoauni's cadence decreased on the third (5:46) and fourth (5:50) laps, and his lead was reduced to seven seconds as he embarked on the final lap. Maru's patience finally paid off as the chase pack caught Aouani with 1.5km remaining. World U20 5000m silver medallist Mebrahtu took charge of the pace soon after, and only Ndikumwenayo could live with the Eritrean’s speed as first Yeko and then Maru began to lose ground.
The Burundian, who set a world-leading time of 7:25.93 over 3000m earlier this year, didn't wait until the home straight to launch his attack, and he unleashed a powerful kick about 500 metres from the finish to overtake Mebrahtu with relative ease.
Ndikumwenayo was timed at 28:34 to Mebrahtu's 28:36. Maru completed a classy podium eight seconds adrift.
“It was a tough race because of the annoying wind,” said 25-year-old Ndikumwenayo, who has been living in the Spanish city of Castellón for the past seven years. “The Italian guy ran away from the start but I decided to keep my mind cold and wait how the race developed. Fortunately, we could reel him in and, over the closing kilometre, I felt very confident of my final speed.”
Ndikumwenayo’s next race will be in Atapuerca next Sunday. He is aiming to compete at the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst next year, though he may also do some indoor races.
From the gun, the 8km race became a two-woman contest between Kenya's defending champion Lucy Mawia and Burundi's Cavaline Nahimana. The duo broke away from the rest to open a gap of about 100 metres by the end of the opening kilometre, which was covered in 3:22.
Further back, a large pack of local athletes raced together alongside Argentina's Maria Luz Tesuri. After successive 2km laps of 6:53 and 6:51, the lead pair – with Mawia always in charge of pacing duties and the Burundian running at her shoulder – had built a margin of more than a minute on the chasing group, headed by Olympian and marathon specialist Laura Méndez and Laura Luengo, a 1:12:39 half marathon specialist.
On the penultimate circuit, Mawia started to pull away from Nahimana while Tesuri increased her pace to leave the leading Spaniards way back within a matter of a few hundred metres. By the bell, the Kenyan was already a virtual victor as her advantage on Nahimana had risen to 30 seconds, the Burundian another 22 seconds clear of Tesuri, herself barely three seconds faster than the Spanish duo of Luengo and Marta García.
While Mawia continued to pull away, Nahimana began to falter dramatically on the closing lap and midway through the circuit was overtaken by Luengo, García and Tesuri who had been reeled in by the Spaniards.
Mawia reached the finish line 61 seconds ahead of García, the runner-up after passing Luengo in the final 200 metres with the Argentinean in fourth. "I kicked off fast to make sure I would be on the podium,” said Mawia. “I'm very satisfied as I managed to win again here.”
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics
1 Thierry Ndikumwenayo (BDI) 28:34
2 Merhawi Mebrahtu (ERI) 28:36
3 Peter Maru (UGA) 28:44
4 Iliass Aouani (ITA) 28:53
5 Dismas Yeko (UGA) 29:19
6 Thomas Ayeko (UGA) 29:26
7 Nassim Hassaous (ESP) 29:27
8 Santiago Catrofe (URU) 29:28
9 Yahya Aouina (ESP) 29:30
10 Ilias Fifa (ESP) 29:50
1 Lucy Mawia Muli (KEN) 27:02
2 Marta García (ESP) 28:03
3 Laura Luengo (ESP) 28:04
4 Maria Luz Tesuri (ARG) 28:12
5 Cristina Ruiz (ESP) 28:19
6 Naima Ait Alibou (ESP) 28:24
7 Marta Pérez (ESP) 28:27
8 Esther Navarrete (ESP) 28:29
9 Lidia Campo (ESP) 28:51
10 Beatriz Álvarez (ESP) 28:52