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UK Cross Challenge leaders hit Cardiff

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The penultimate round of this winter’s UK Cross Challenge in Blackweir Park, Cardiff, on Sunday 21 January – carrying £1,460 in prizes from backers UK Athletics – has attracted nine of the 10 current age group leaders in the ever-popular and highly competitive series.

 

But all nine will face tough tasks as they seek to consolidate their leads before the Finals, which are again incorporated into the UK Inter-Counties Cross Country Championships being staged in Nottingham’s Wollaton Park on Saturday 24 February.

 

Take the Senior Women’s 6km as a prime example. Gemma Phillips (Kendal AC), who leads the series with 143 points after the races at Birmingham, Liverpool and Belfast, is set to line-up against her closest challenger, Victoria Wilkinson (Bingley Harriers), third-placed Michelle Ross-Cope (City of Stoke AC) – plus Sian Edwards (Kettering Town Harriers), who is seeking to emulate the feat of fellow Junior Emily Pidgeon, who won this race 12 months ago. Others likely to chase the prize money in a race that incorporates an Inter-Area Match are the reigning Challenge Champion Hatti Dean (Hallamshire Harriers Sheffield), second in this race 12 months ago, Norwich Union GB road international Jenny Blizard (Rotherham Harriers), road and cross country international Susan Partridge (City of Glasgow AC) and former course winner Tara Krzywicki (Charnwood AC).

 

The Under 20 Men’s 7km race – incorporating the annual Schools’ Inter-Counties, like the rest of the teenagers’ events – features current leader Lee Carey (Nuneaton Harriers) and his closest challenger, Ieuan Thomas (Cwmbran Harriers), who won the Under 17s’ race at the Belfast Cross Challenge last year.

 

The Under 20 Women’s 5km includes run-away series leader Olivia Kenney (Royal Sutton Coldfield AC), who was in the gold medal winning Norwich Union GB Junior Women’s Team at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships last month. Home hopes in this race are likely to be led by Non Stanford (Swansea Harriers), hopefully over the injuries that have hampered her of late.

 

The Under 17 Men’s 6km includes Shaun Collins (Enfield and Haringey AC), who has a 9-point lead in this segment of the Series in a field that also includes Liverpool Cross Challenge winner Chris Harvey (Cannock and Stafford).

 

The Under 17 Women’s 4km includes Heather Timmins (Warrington AC), who has amassed 81 points thus far. But she will face a daunting task against Charlotte Purdue (Aldershot, Farnham and District), who won last weekend’s Junior Women’s race for Norwich Union GB at the Lisbon International and who is down to revert to her own age group this weekend.

 

The Under 15 Boys’ 4km will give John Bird (Ipswich) an opportunity to extend his 10 point lead at the top of the Challenge.

 

The Under 15 Girls’ 3km features Sarah Barker (Sale Harriers Manchester), who has a 20-point lead in the Series.

 

The Under 13 Boys’ 3km promises to be a thriller, involving the trio separated by only one point at the head of the Series: Luke Carroll (Cheltenham and District Harriers) and Thomas Purnell (Stroud and District) both have 75 points while Edward Shepherd (Herts Phoenix) has 74.

 

The Under 13 Girls’ 3km has also attracted the form athletes including Amber Watson (Gloucester AC), who leads the Series with 76 points, Emily Fitzhugh (Westbury Harriers), who has 69 and Katie Reynolds (East Cheshire Harriers), who has 68.

 

Which leaves the Senior Men’s 9km. Series leaders Gavin Thompson (Crawley), Steve Vernon (Stockport), Michael Skinner (Blackheath and Bromley) and Andy Vernon (Aldershot, Farnham and District) – all members of the Norwich Union GB Team at the European Cross Country Championships in Italy – have opted to give this race a miss to concentrate on preparing for the World Senior Trials, which for this winter are being incorporated into the BUSA Championships at the University of Bath on Saturday 3 February in order to give the selected athletes ample time to prepare for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, Kenya.

 

Also absent is Phil Nicholls (Tipton Harriers), who has had a fabulous fortnight in which he led home the UK contingents at the Belfast Cross Challenge and the Elgoibar International in Spain, where he finished 10.5km only 64 seconds behind winner Sileshi Sihine (Ethiopia), the reigning World and Olympic 10,000m silver medallist who will be hunting World medals in Kenya.

 

That said, Cardiff has still attracted several men who will be chasing places in the Worlds team including Alan Buckley (Gateshead Harriers), who trained in Ethiopia pre-Christmas to prepare for a strong push for honours; Kevin Haywood (Bristol and West), who has improved greatly this winter; Matt Lole (Coventry Godiva Harriers), who has battled injuries earlier this winter in an attempt to return to the international stage; Ben Noad (Highgate Harriers), who won this race last year on his way to a place in the Norwich Union GB Team for the World Cross in Japan; Ben Tickner (Birmingham University), aiming to follow brother Frank, who won the European Trial at the Liverpool Cross Challenge in November; and evergreen Rob Whalley (Bristol and West), who has won at least one UK Cross Challenge race each season since 2003-04 – but has yet to break his duck this time around.

 

The meeting starts at 11am. For a timetable and more details, please visit the UK Cross Challenge page.