Adam Hickey (coach: Eamonn Martin; county: Essex) & Jenny Nesbitt (Chris Jones; Worcestershire) led the auto-qualifiers for the British team ahead of the World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark at the end of the month.
In incredibly difficult conditions, Nesbitt produced a remarkable final loop to run down Jess Piasecki (Robert Hawkins; Greater Manchester) and claim victory in the senior women’s race.
Hickey meanwhile required a sprint finish to deny Euro Cross trials winner Ross Millington (Steve Vernon; Greater Manchester) the chance to repeat the trick, earning auto-selection to a British team for the first time since 2015.
Nesbitt chased down the Stockport athlete’s near seven-second lead on the final loop to cut the tape first in 37:52, with Piasecki holding off the challenge of Mhairi MacLennan (Helen Clitheroe; Scotland East) to take the second automatic qualification spot in 38:05, one second ahead of the Scottish athlete.
Kate Avery’s (North East) fourth place finish secured her the Cross Challenge title from Piasecki by six points. The latter tied with MacLennan and Emily Hosker-Thornhill (Mick Woods; Kent) on the same points tally, but Piasecki’s performance on the day earned her second in the standings.
After a solid winter of training, Nesbitt feels she has proved to herself she deserves to be on the world stage and that her performance is testament to the work she has put in over the winter.
She said: “It was really tough out there but that is the sort of cross country that I enjoy because it’s a case of who can grind it out the longest and be patient and it comes down to getting it right on the day and I did that.
“I think that has been the first time I’ve come off and I’ve thought ‘I’ve done that race well today’. In the closing stages, my coach was yelling at me to push on down the hill and I gave it everything about 100m down the hill and as we rounded the corner into the finishing straight, I have to go back and not look back.
“It means an awful lot to have achieved an automatic qualifying spot for the World Cross Country Championships because it’s been a long time in coming. I was disappointed not to make the team in Liverpool and today then became the goal and the focus.”
It came down to a sprint finish in the senior men’s race as Ross Millington (Steve Vernon; Greater Manchester) and Adam Hickey (Eamonn Martin; Essex) were shoulder-to-shoulder until the home straight, when Hickey kicked clear for victory.
The duo had been at the fore from the off, alongside Oliver Fox (Richard Llewellyn Eaton; Wells City) and Patrick Dever (Andy Bibby; Lancashire), only to pull away to secure the win by one second in 32:44.
Mahamed Mahamed (Peter Haynes; Hampshire) finished in fifth place, but did enough to secure his second consecutive Cross Challenge title, edging Hickey by just one point.
For Hickey, his performance gives him the chance to run in a British vest again for the first time since 2015 and he feels it is justice to the work that he has done in training to get him to this point.
He said: “I kept trying to cover all the moves within the race and I found myself feeling good until I was in the closing stages with Ross and as soon as I was top two, I couldn’t come away with coming home in second place, I had to go for it.
“To gain automatic selection for the world cross team is great and I knew I had to come here and secure my place in the top two.
“I rolled my ankle on two occasions before Christmas which hampered me for the Europeans and since then almost all my runs have been on the road in training, but it just shows that the long runs after work and in the dark are all worth it with a performance like that.
Yorkshire took the overall senior women’s team title, led by the efforts of Claire Duck’s (Mike Baker) 10th place finish, with the senior men’s team title heading the way of Middlesex, with Abdishakur Abdulle the top finisher in 14th.
Matt Willis (self; North Wales) led the Under-20 men auto-qualifiers home with a blistering performance in blustery conditions that saw him home with more than a 100m lead, stopping the clock in 29:26.
The polished performance in the opening race of the day helped Willis to his second victory of the season, having claimed a win in Milton Keynes in his first outing.
The Wrexham athlete was followed home by English National champion Rory Leonard (North East), who held off the challenge of fellow North East runner Josh Cowperthwaite (Martin Peevor), recording times of 29:38 and 29:43 respectively to take the remaining automatic qualifying spots.
In testing conditions out on the course, Willis’ victory was his first at the Inter Counties and he felt he ran a near perfect race to secure victory.
“It was very windy out there and I used that to my advantage given my triathlon training and I was able to use that to my advantage. I stayed in the pack where it was sheltered and I gave it a good kick at the end.
“Last year I came here and blew up and I couldn’t risk doing that again. Inter Counties has been my weak link in my career from Under-13 level where I came 212th. Since then I’ve had a sixth, 17th, seventh and a second, but today I’ve finally managed to get the illusive win.”
The women’s equivalent saw Grace Brock (Cornwall) stamp her authority on the Prestwold Hall course and secure her auto-selection for world cross, and secure back-to-back Cross Challenge titles in the process.
Brock had to bide her time in a cagey opening to the race, before making a move just after the half way stage to open up a healthy lead from Amelia Samuels (John Abbiss; Staffordshire), stopping the clock in 21:19, seven seconds clear of Samuels.
The third automatic qualification spot in a sprint finish went the way of Olivia Mason (Graeme Mason; North West), who held off Eloise Walker (John Lees; Scotland East) by a two-second margin, clocking 21:37.
For Brock will earn her third British vest in four months when she heads out to Aarhus and achieving selection for the team caps a perfect winter for her.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t going for the win just to solidify that title but to get auto selection for the world cross is just amazing. Two weeks ago I went off too hard and paid for it at the end in the English Nationals and I wanted to measure it more. I got my lead on the downhill section and tried to stretch that out.
“It’s amazing to get another British vest, this was my main goal and to follow Euro Cross with World Cross is just amazing and this whole winter season has been a dream come true,” she said.
Walker helped Scotland East to the Under-20 team title, with Yorkshire claiming the men’s team title, led by the efforts of sixth place Euan Brennan (Andrew Henderson).
Away from the trial races, it was Sam Charlton’s (Paddy Dinsmore; North East) day as he stormed to victory in 18:48 in the Under-17 Boys race, with Hamish Armitt (Dudley Walker; Scotland West) edging Joshua Dickinson (Andrew Henderson; Yorkshire), the duo clocking 18:54 & 18:56 respectively.
Armitt took the overall Cross Challenge title following his second place finish, while Kent took the team title with three runners inside the top 10 contributing to their score.
The Under-17 Girls race saw India Pentland (David Lowes; North East) take her first victory of the series with a solid 19:38 showing on the course, beating Tia Wilson (Bedfordshire) by 12 seconds. Shannon Flockhart (Mark Vile; Cambridge & Coleridge) took third and the overall Cross Challenge title in 19:53, whilst Esther Rowe-Towle (Jamie Russell; Yorkshire) led the White Rose to team victory with a fourth-place finish.
Louis Small (Kent) claimed the final maximum points of the series and helped Kent to the Inter Counties title in the Under-15 boys race, but it was Fraser Sproul (Cumbria) who took the overall Cross Challenge title after following him home seven seconds behind Small’s 13:04. Joshua Robbins (Worcestershire) came home in third, with Lewis Sullivan (Suffolk) fourth, earning a second place spot in the standings.
Beatrice Wood (Wiltshire) took victory in the women’s equivalent from Bethany Cook, the latter five seconds behind Wood’s 14:17 showing. North East claimed the team title, led by the charge from Ines Curran (Janice Lawton).
Ben Peck (Suffolk) won the Under-13 Boys race for his first success of the season in 11:46, but it was William Rabjohns (Mark Pauley; Dorset) who took the overall Cross Challenge title after coming home in second place seven seconds further back.
Ruby Vinton (Suffolk) powered to victory in the Under-13 Girls race with a near-20 second winning margin from Scarlett Livingstone (Devon), who herself had a 10-second winning margin from Francesca Baxter (Buckinghamshire).
Surrey and Kent tied for the girls team title but Surrey’s positions on the day saw them take the win, as Yorkshire took the boys title.