Rahel Daniel wins at the 79th Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza (© Asociacion ADOC)
Eritrea's Rahel Daniel and Ethiopia's Selemon Barega captured commanding wins at the 79th Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza – a World Athletics Cross Country Tour Gold meeting – in the Spanish town of Elgoibar on Sunday (8).
While Olympic 10,000m champion Barega managed his second win in Elgoibar, Daniel became the first Eritrean to take the top spot here.
On a cloudy day but one without rain by the time of the events, the 7.6km women’s race kicked off at a pedestrian pace, the opening 400m on the track being covered in 1:31. After the first small lap, six women remained in the lead group, Daniel joined by the Kenyan duo of Edinah Jebitok and Margaret Kipkemboi, Ethiopia's Mahlet Mulugeta, Bahrain's Winfred Yavi and Burundian Francine Niyonsaba, who was the first casualty of the front pack along with Mulugeta as they began to lose ground 11 minutes into the race.
The defending champion Jebitok did most of the pacing duties but Daniel travelled right on her shoulder with ease, despite having contested and won the Campaccio cross country event in San Giorgio su Legnano two days earlier. Yavi and Kipkemboi completed the leading quartet at midway, but shortly afterwards Jebitok's relentless rhythm proved too fast for them and the race became a thrilling encounter between Jebitok and Daniel.
By the bell the duo at the helm had a three-second advantage on Yavi, herself nine seconds clear of Kipkemboi with Niyonsaba a distant fifth, 25 seconds in arrears. The key move came with 600m remaining, when Daniel – who finished fifth at the Olympics over 10,000m – broke away easily from Jebitok to take her second win in the World Athletics Cross Country Tour in just two days.
The 21-year-old Eritrean clocked 25:43, finishing eight seconds ahead of Jebitok, while a lonesome Yavi claimed third place, 15 seconds in arrears.
In the fight to be the first European home, Britain's Steph Twell dominated for the first half of the race but her fast-finishing compatriot Poppy Tank overtook her during the second half and even passed Mulugeta to place sixth, 1:46 behind the victor.
"It was a muddy and tough race so I prefer to kick off conservatively, especially as I was a bit tired after the race in Italy," said Daniel. "I'm completely focused on the World Cross Country Championships in Australia and I want to win a medal there."
Barega back to winning ways
The men’s 10.8km contest's early leader was Spain’s European indoor 3000m bronze medallist Adel Mechaal. The 32-year-old injected a brisk pace right from the gun to cover the first 400m in 1:06, closely followed by the rest of the favourites. Shortly afterwards, Carlos Mayo took command of the race with Mechaal, Barega, Bahrain's Birhanu Balew and the unheralded Moroccan Mohamed Aferdi, among others, running in close attendance.
Selemon Barega triumphs at the 79th Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza (© Asociacion ADOC)
The first 2.1km lap took the front group 6:29 with Mayo, a 27:25:00 10,000m athlete, still in the lead and he only had Barega, Balew and the surprise Aferdi for company. But the pace slowed over the second big loop, covered in 6:46, and Mechaal and Aaron Las Heras managed to catch the leaders.
Midway through the penultimate lap, Barega moved to the front for the first time and his change of rhythm could only be followed by Balew and Aferdi, with the Spanish trio of Mechaal, Mayo and the US-based Las Heras losing ground.
Confirming his label as pre-race favourite, Barega injected full gas some 2500m from home and by the bell – after a 6:20 penultimate loop – he had built a significant lead of seven seconds on the Ethiopia-based Balew, himself 16 seconds clear of Aferdi and Mechaal, who had managed to join the Moroccan.
Over the closing circuit a determined Barega proved to be in fine form, extending his advantage over Balew, while Mechaal dropped Aferdi to secure the third spot on the podium.
At the finish line, 22-year-old Barega won unopposed in 33:14 to Balew's 33:27, while Mechaal completed a classy podium another 12 seconds adrift.
"I'm satisfied with my third podium here in as many appearances in Elgoibar," said Barega. "It's not for sure, but I'll likely skip the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst and I'll do some indoor races instead."
Asked about his outdoor season plans, he added: "I'll try to make the Ethopian team to compete in the 10,000m but I haven't ruled out trying a double, taking part in either the 5000m or even the 1500m."
As for Balew, his next race will be the Noche de San Anton, a 10km road race in the Spanish city of Jaen next Saturday (14).
In the Mamo Wolde trophy for the U20 races, the wins went to Great Britain's Zoe Gilbody, who was closely followed by her compatriot Libby Huxley, and France's Imad El Goumri, who beat the pre-race favourite Sam Mills of Great Britain.
1 Rahel Daniel (ERI) 25:43
2 Edinah Jebitok (KEN) 25:51
3 Winfred Yavi (BRN) 25:58
4 Margaret Kipkemboi (KEN) 26:16
5 Francine Niyonsaba (BDI) 26:30
6 Poppy Tank (GBR) 27:29
7 Mahlet Mulugeta (ETH) 27:33
8 Naima Ait Alibou (ESP) 27:38
9 Cristina Ruiz (ESP) 27:39
10 Amelia Quirk (GBR) 27:50
1 Selemon Barega (ETH) 33:14
2 Birhanu Balew (BRN) 33:27
3 Adel Mechaal (ESP) 33:39
4 Mohamed Aferdi (MOR) 33:48
5 Aaron Las Heras (ESP) 33:49
6 Carlos Mayo (ESP) 34:01
7 Santiago Catrofe (URU) 34:06
8 Javier Guerra (ESP) 34:18
9 Zakariya Mahamed (GBR) 34:24
10 Alex George (GBR) 34:28