Rodrigue Kwizera wins the Cross Internacional de Venta de Banos (© Asociación ADOC)
Burundi’s Rodrigue Kwizera and his compatriot Francine Niyonsaba captured comfortable victories at the 42nd Cross Internacional de Venta de Banos, the ninth Gold level meeting of this season’s World Athletics Cross Country Tour, held on Sunday (18).
On a sunny day, Kwizera retained his title in style, while Niyonsaba was successful when making her first ever cross country appearance on Spanish soil.
The 10,575m men’s event saw Spain's Adel Mechaal at the head of the group in the opening stages, ahead of the overwhelming favourite Kwizera, his fellow Burundian Agide Nduwimana, Morocco's Abderrahmane Aferdi and Portugal's Etson Barros, as well as Spain's Abdessamad Oukhelfen and his brother Abdennasser. But before the third kilometre, the leading pack whittled down to four athletes: Mechaal, Oukhelfen, Kwizera and Aferdi.
Kwizera made his first serious move some 4.5km into the race, when he took the lead for the first time to increase the pace. Only Oukhelfen, the 2019 European U23 cross country bronze medallist who was 10th in the senior race at the recent event in Italy, could live with his change of speed. The 24-year-old Spaniard later overtook Kwizera but his lead was short lived as the Burundian regained the top spot with a brisk 6:46 lap, some 15 seconds faster than the previous one. By then, the leading duo travelled five seconds clear of Mechaal, himself four seconds ahead of Aferdi.
It was at the beginning of the penultimate circuit that the Spain-based Kwizera decided to break away from Oukhelfen and he easily left the Spaniard well behind in a matter of a few metres. Kwizera reached the bell after another quick loop of 6:45, with Oukhelfen seven seconds in arrears and Mechaal another eight seconds adrift. Whenever Oukhelfen tried to approach Kwizera, the Burundian easilly changed his speed to strengthen his lead.
At the tape, the winner clocked 34:06 and was some 100m ahead of Oukhelfen, while Mechaal came third, 36 seconds behind the winner.
"This is my third win on this year's Cross Country Tour after my wins in Amorebieta and Alcobendas, so I'm really satisfied," said Kwizera. "I'll now go back to my altitude training in Sierra Nevada and my next event will be the Cinque Mulini cross country on 15 January."
Niyonsaba in a class of her own
It was Spanish steeplechaser Irene Sanchez-Escribano who was the early leader of the 7975m event, closely followed by Niyonsaba, Turkey's Emine Mechaal and Spaniards Marta Garcia, Isabel Barreiro and Carolina Robles, among others.
Some seven minutes into the race, the Burundian took the lead to inject a faster pace and force her opponents to run in single file behind her. By the third kilometre, Niyonsaba had built a five-second margin on Sanchez-Escribano and Barreiro, themselves 12 seconds clear of a four-strong group featurng Mechaal, Garcia, Robles and Cristina Ruiz.
Francine Niyonsaba wins the Cross Internacional de Venta de Banos (© Miguel Alfambra)
After covering the first big (2200m) lap in 7:54, Niyonsaba increased her lead to nine seconds ahead of the chasing duo of Sanchez-Escribano and Barreiro, while Mechaal travelled alone in fourth and Ruiz dropped Garcia and Robles.
At the bell – after clocking 7:48 for the penultimate loop – Niyonsaba became a virtual winner as she ran 15 seconds ahead of the Spanish pair. Over the course of the last circuit, Sanchez-Escribano managed to break away from Barreiro while Niyonsaba remained unopposed at the helm. Once she had secured the win, the Burundian slowed her pace and ran 7:59 for the closing lap, but even so she crossed the finish line 11 seconds ahead of Escribano, herself eight seconds clear of Barreiro.
"The circuit was tough over some sections, so I decided to kick off conservatively," said Niyonsaba. "I'm delighted with my first win at a cross country race and hope to compete at the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst.
"After a training stint in Kenya and today's race, I now return to Burundi, but I'll come back in three weeks to compete at the Elgoibar cross country event on 8 January."
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics
1 Francine Niyonsaba (BUR) 30:44
2 Irene Sanchez-Escribano (ESP) 30:55
3 Isabel Barreiro (ESP) 31:03
4 Cristina Ruiz (ESP) 31:17
5 Emine Mechaal (TUR) 31:22
6 Carolina Robles (ESP) 31:48
7 Marta Garcia (ESP) 31:51
8 Angela Viciosa (ESP) 32:23
9 Claudia Estevez (ESP) 32:35
10 Yesica Mas (ESP) 32:59
1 Rodrigue Kwizera (BUR) 34:06
2 Abdessamad Oukhelfen (ESP) 34:24
3 Adel Mechaal (ESP) 34:42
4 Abderrahmane Aferdi (MOR) 35:00
5 Abdennasser Oukhelfen (ESP) 3:40
6 David Bascunana (ESP) 35:39
7 Miguel Angel Barzola (ARG) 35:42
8 Jorge Gonzalez (ESP) 35:45
9 Mario Mola (ESP) 35:47
10 Miguel Baidal (ESP) 36:17