Senbere Teferi wins the Cross de Atapuerca (© Organisers)
Spain’s Ouassim Oumaiz and Ethiopia’s Senberi Teferi captured commanding victories at the 16th Cross Internacional de Atapuerca, the opening leg of the 2019-20 IAAF Cross Country Permit series held in windy conditions on Saturday (9) in Burgos, Spain.
In doing so, Teferi notched up her fourth consecutive victory here and she is just one win behind her compatriot Imane Merga’s record tally of five. 20-year-old Spaniard Oumaiz, meanwhile, was a totally unexpected winner to achieve the first local victory since 2008.
The women’s 8km event, which preceded the men’s race, kicked off conservatively as the opening two kilometres were covered in a comfortable 6:55 with nine women at the front, headed by Kenya’s Eva Cherono with Britain’s Charlotte Arter and Venezuela’s Joselyn Brea near the back of the pack.
Cherono’s relentless pace soon whittled down the main group to five women, with only her compatriot Gloria Kite, the Ethiopian tandem of Teferi and Fikadu Zenebu plus Uganda’s Peruth Chemutai for company.
It was midway the third and penultimate two-kilometre loop that Teferi first took command of the race, although she didn’t increase the pace as the leaders covered that lap in 6:33 compared to the previous one’s 6:24. Even so, Chemutai lost ground and by the bell the race witnessed the usual Kenyan-Ethiopian battle in the guise of Cherono and Kite versus Teferi and Zenebu.
Some 1.3km from home, Teferi stepped up the pace to open a 15-metre margin on Cherono while Zenebu and Kite ran in single file way back. Although Teferi’s advantage over the Kenyan was never big, the Ethiopian’s win didn’t seem in jeopardy at any time and she crossed the line first for the fourth time in as many appearances in Atapuerca. While Cherono secured the runner-up spot, Zenebu outsprinted Kite in a thrilling sprint to take the third place on the podium.
Arter was the first European home, head and shoulders clear of Spain’s Teresa Urbina in seventh and eighth place respectively.
“It was a tough race because of the cold and wind but I felt comfortable throughout and managed to unleash my attack over the last kilometre and win,” said Teferi, the 2015 world 5000m and cross-country silver medallist. “I hope to return next year to match my compatriot Imane Merga’s five victories. After my wins at the Valencia Half Marathon and today, I now plan to return to Ethiopia.”
Oumaiz upsets the favourites
The men’s 9km race always looked wide open, but nobody would have imagined that four of the top 10 finishers from this year’s World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus would be beaten by rising Spaniard Ouassim Oumaiz, the European U20 cross-country silver medallist.
Right from the start it was Uganda’s Thomas Ayeko who made most of the pace with his compatriot Timothy Toroitich and Eritrea’s Aron Kifle always in close attendance.
Successive two-kilometre circuits covered in 5:46 and 5:50 left a six-man heading pack also including Burundi’s Thierry Ndikumwenavo and the Spanish duo of Oumaiz and European U23 5000m bronze medallist Abdessamad Oukhelfen.
To the surprise of the crowd, Oumaiz moved to the front with the clock reading 16:00 and first Ndikumwenavo and then Oukhelfen began to falter, losing any winning chance.
Shortly before the bell, the Spaniard fell when he was negotiating a tight bend, allowing Ayeko, Kifle and Toroitich to open a 30-metre gap. It seemed as though the victory would be contended by that lead trio, but the Spaniard bounced back and rejoined the pack. In the final kilometre Oumaiz made his move with a brisker pace that the other three men couldn’t follow.
The leader romped home unopposed, clearly ecstatic by the fact he had defeated some of the world cross country crème on home soil.
“I’m over the moon,” said Oumaiz, who finished 20th in Aarhus earlier this year. “Obviously, I knew my fitness was fine and was expecting a good performance today, but I didn’t dream of winning against some of the best specialists in the world. Unfortunately I picked up an injury after the World Cross and missed the track campaign. I had to settle for watching the World Championships on TV and was eager to come back to competition.
“My short-term goal is the European Cross in Lisbon on 8 December; I’m still eligible for the under-23 category but I’ll contest the senior race and hope to fight for the podium places. I’ll next run in Soria on Sunday 17 November.”
Asked on whether he had chatted with his podium mates today, Oumaiz laughed and said: “yes, Toroitich congratulated me and said, ‘now it’s your time, guy’.”
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
1 Ouassim Oumaiz (ESP) 25:54
2 Thomas Ayeko (UGA) 25:56
3 Timothy Toroitich (UGA) 25:56
4 Aron Kifle (ERI) 25:59
5 Abdessalam Oukhelfen (ESP) 26:09
6 Thierry Ndikumwenavo (BUR) 26:15
7 Carlos Mayo (ESP) 26:17
8 Awet Habte (ERI) 26:18
9 Nassim Hassaous (ESP) 26:20
10 Hassan Chani (BRN) 26:24
1 Senbere Teferi (ETH) 25:38
2 Eva Cherono (KEN) 25:42
3 Fikadu Zenebu (ETH) 25:44
4 Gloria Kite (KEN) 25:45
5 Deborah Samun (KEN) 26:15
6 Peruth Chemutai (UGA) 26:19
7 Charlotte Arter (GBR) 26:29
8 Teresa Urbina (ESP) 27:14
9 Jenny Nesbitt (GBR) 27:18
10 Celia Antón (ESP) 27:19