With three weeks to go until the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Piemonte-La Mandria Park, Iliass Aouani confirmed his place on the Italian team with victory at the test event on the outskirts of Turin on Sunday (20) afternoon.
In the shadow of La Mandria Castle, Aouani covered an undulating and demanding 10km course - a near-identical course to the one which will be used next month - at the ‘J Medical International Cross La Mandria’ in 29:34. He won by a commanding margin from European 3000m steeplechase bronze medallist Osama Zoghlami (29:50) with Nekagenet Crippa third (29:52).
Nekagenet’s younger brother Yemaneberhan did not take part in yesterday’s dress rehearsal but the European 10,000m champion has been pre-selected and will spearhead an Italian team which has a legitimate chance of winning the team title on home soil.
The consensus among athletes and technical delegates alike is that the course which has been devised for next month’s championships is one of the toughest in the recent history of the SPAR European Cross Country Championships. The course will also feature a unique component in the form of a 50 metre-long indoor section which takes the runners through the carriage pavilion on the periphery of the castle.
The assessment of the course was shared by the winner. After the race, Aouani said: "The course is really challenging. The ground is really heavy and muddy so you will need to run with agility - not wasting a lot of strength in the first stages of the race because you will pay a lot at the end.
"The first part is flat where you can get to run really fast; the second part is 300 metres uphill and then 300 metres downhill. Both hills are really steep so going up, you will need to be really conservative. Coming down is really challenging because you are going down really steep.
"Overall it’s a course on which you need to run really smart. I think the secret is to run and to trust your feeling and to understand what happens in your body and know when to push, when to save and know when to go at the right time."
In the absence of Nadia Battocletti who has also been pre-selected for the SPAR European Cross Country Championships, Anna Arnaudo won the senior women’s 8km in 27:48 by a comfortable margin from Valentina Gemetto in 28:08.
"This was a very important test in view of the European Cross Country Championships. It was essential to be there, to experience the route. I started cautiously on the advice of my coach Gianni Crepaldi to understand what the terrain was like. Then I let my legs do their thing, I listened to my feelings, I tried to go: the climb was really tough. But it's a fun course that will put on a show on 11 December," she said.
Like Battocletti, Arnaudo will be competing in the U23 race at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships next month when the Italians will be looking to retain their team title from Fingal-Dublin last year. Behind eventual winner Battocletti, Arnaudo was Italy’s second counter in the Irish capital.
In the short course 2km which was staged to gauge form for the mixed relay at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships, Portugal’s Isaac Nader won the men’s race in 5:55 from Yassin Bouih (5:56) and European 1500m fourth-placer Pietro Arese (5:58).
Salome Afonso made it a Portuguese double in the women’s race in 7:02 ahead of Federica Del Bueno (7:07) and Ireland’s Nadia Power (7:10).
The SPAR European Cross Country Championships takes place on 11 December and the event will be streamed live in full through the European Athletics website.
Full results here.
Photos from Damiano Benedetto
Healy defeats Mageean for Irish cross country title in Donegal
At the Irish Cross Country Championships in Donegal on Sunday (20), former European U18 champion Sarah Healy won the battle of the 1500m specialists against Ciara Mageean in the senior women’s 8km.
Healy waited until the final uphill climb before making her move, surging clear on the run for home and crossing the finish 15 seconds clear of Mageean to win her first Irish senior cross country title in 27:05 although the latter’s challenge was all but scuppered by losing a spike on the last lap.
"I’m so excited, it means a lot to me against such good girls. I enjoyed it - as much as you can enjoy an 8km cross. It’s a very scenic course," said Healy who will face the likes of Battocletti in the U23 race at next month’s SPAR European Cross Country Championships.
Healy added: "I’m excited to run the U23 race and to be running 6K instead of 8K. I was fifth last year, so I have to be going for a medal."
Last year’s European U23 cross country silver medallist Darragh McElhinney - who is still eligible for the U23 race in La Mandria Park next month - won the senior men’s 10km ahead of Hiko Tonosa, 29:59 to 30:03, while European U20 3000m champion Nick Griggs won the U20 6km in 17:43.
The winner of the European U23 cross country title last year Charles Hicks became the first British winner of the NCAA cross country title since 1989 on Saturday (19).
Hicks won on a firm but undulating course in Stillwater, Oklahoma with 28:44 for the 10km distance ahead of Nico Young in 28:45. However the 21-year-old Brit is likely to step back down to the 8km distance for the defence of his U23 title at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships next month.
Bastien Augusto had the beating of a strong French contingent at the Cross Le Maine Libre in Allonnes on Sunday (20), one of the significant selection races for the SPAR European Cross Country Championships.
Augusto finished second in the senior men’s 9km behind Ethiopia’s world U20 3000m steeplechase champion - 27:15 to 27:17 - and ahead of his French teammates Morhad Amdouni (27:21) and European 10,000m bronze medallist Yann Schrub (27:26) who finished fourth and fifth respectively.