29 November 2008
The freezing fog of the McCain Cross Challenge - Liverpool ushered in a new generation of Senior winners at Sefton Park with Andy Vernon and Steph Twell taking honours in the top races.
And with World Junior 1500m bronze medallist Emma Pallant and 1500m finalist David Forrester taking the junior challenge titles in emphatic form, it was a day for the new blood to take charge.
Also up for grabs were places in the Norwich Union GB and NI team for the European Cross Country Championships in Brussels in just two weeks time. Here’s how the key races unfolded:
Junior Women 4.4km
Emma Pallant (Aldershot Farnham & District) took first place in impressive fashion, in a race where there was a tense battle for the remaining European Cross Country places. With Aldershot team-mates Steph Twell and Charlotte Purdue both pre-selected for Brussels, the available places were reduced to four. And with Twell opting to compete over the senior women’s race, the field was wide open to the range of World Junior Championship athletes in attendance.
Early in the race Inter Counties Cross Country champion Laura Park (Ellenborough AC) had been the first of the main challengers to show, but by the start of the second lap, Emily Pidgeon (Stroud) and Lauren Howarth (Leigh Harriers) pressed on with a surge and opened a small gap on the following group. It was then that Pallant chose to work her way forward and in doing so passed the pair and continued on to build a race-winning gap.
It was welcome victory for Pallant who admitted she had few plans going into the race:
“I was happy to leave my run as late as possible,” she admitted. “But when I made up the gap I felt good and went with it.”
With Brussels set to be the venue where Twell will look to take a third Junior Championships title, Pallant was determined to play her part on the day:
“I’ll be going in to the race thinking every place counts in order for us to win the team medal too.”
Results: 1 Emma Pallant (AFD) 14.40; 2 Emily Pidgeon (Stroud) 14.50; 3 Lauren Howarth (Leigh) 14.57; 4 Laura Park (Ellenborough) 14.59; 5 Louise Small (AFD) 15.08; 6 Lily Partridge (AFD) 15.13.
Junior Men 6.7km
With the European Cross Country Championships so much in his sights and his intentions not to ease down for the trial race ringing in spectator’s ears, there did not appear to be much lacking in the form of David Forrester (St Helens Sutton) as he dominated the Junior men’s fixture.
Although he had both Mitch Goose (City of Norwich) and Belgrave’s Nick Goolab keeping him company for half the race, Forrester was able to shake them off in the latter stages and power away to another conclusive victory.
“It wasn’t a bad race – the effort was more mental than anything,” he admitted soon after.
“Neither of the other guys wanted to do anything and I put in a few surges but I’m glad to get the win.
“I’m looking forward to Brussels now as I’ve always said that’s my target – not the trial race – and I wouldn’t want to go into any race not thinking I could win it, so I’ll do the best I can.”
Results: 1 Dave Forrester (St Helens Sutton) 20.29; 2 Nick Goolab (Belgrave) 20.36; 3 Mitch Goose (City of Norwich) 20.39; 4 Phillip Berntsen (Winchester) 20.40; 5 Ross Murray (Gateshead) 20.42; 6 Chris O Hare (Edinburgh) 20.51.
Senior Women 8.1km
Despite stepping up to the senior ranks for her race programme this winter, junior Steph Twell takes with her years of racing wisdom and demonstrated it for the second McCain Cross Challenge race in a row. Her confidence in being able to allow the field to run away initially played dividends when she was able to run away to victory.
Yet as per usual, former European Cross Country champion Hayley Yelling was nearly Queen of the Liverpool Cross Challenge once again – as her gritty front running effort ran the legs off all the remaining challengers, apart from those of Twell. It was a fascinating battle – with Twell languishing back outside the top ten for the first small lap as the likes of Yelling (Windsor Slough Eton and Hounslow), Louise Damen (Winchester & District) and Katrina Wootton (Bedford & County) pushed on but as the race unfolded and as the last lap started Twell and Yelling were side by side, before Twell used the undulations of the wooded area to race onto victory.
Despite spectator concerns, Twell was confident with her approach to the race:
“I didn’t look up too many times in the first part of the race, I wasn’t concerned with what others were doing,” she admitted.
“I just wanted to execute a good race - as close to what I did at Gateshead as possible. Mick (Woods) is often saying it’s not where you are at the start it’s where you are at the finish.
“Now I’m in the senior ranks I’m starting to look at how to position myself in races that will allow me to win. As a junior you pretty much know where you should be all the time in comparison to your opposition, but in senior races I have to race smarter.”
Results: 1 Steph Twell (AFD) 27.09; 2 Hayley Yelling (Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow) 27.20; 3 Louise Damen (Winchester) 27.29; 4 Hatti Dean (Hallamshire) 27.33; 5 Katrina Wootton (Bedford & County) 27.34; 6 Gemma Miles (Kendal) 27.35.
Senior Men 9.8km
Andy Vernon (Aldershot Farnham & District) timed his run to the senior title to perfection in the last race of the afternoon, after an intelligent run where he only came to the fore at the business end of the race.
In a drawn out battle where anyone from Phil Wicks (Belgrave), Lee Merrien (Guernsey), Frank Tickner (Wells) and Keith Gerrard (Newham & Essex) might have strode to the win, it came down to a stunning sprint finish, and Vernon put his 5000m track pace into overdrive in taking first ahead of Tickner and Merrien.
It was an impressive finish by the under 23 athlete who revealed soon after he was keen to see what he could do in Brussels.
“I want to do the under 23 race – I hope they select me for it,” he said. “I just want to be in it because I know I can win it!
“The first lap was quite fast, but it soon settled down. I thought by the second lap that all this mud is going to take its toll but it didn’t and I still felt ok on the third lap.
“Training’s going well, and this course suited me so I’m looking forward to the Europeans now.”
Andy Vernon (U23)(AFD) 29.34; 2 Frank Tickner (Wells) 29.35; 3 Lee Merrien (Guernsey) 29.36; 4 Keith Gerrard (U23) (Newham 8 Essex)29.37; 5 Moumin Geele (Newham & Essex) 29.43; 6 Phil Wicks (Belgrave) 29.45; 7 Mike Skinner (Blackheath & Bromley) 29.48; 8 Scott Overall (Blackheath & Bromley)29.56.
For further information see the McCain UK Cross Challenge – Liverpool results below.
McCain UK Cross Challenge standings will be updated on Monday.