Last month, the England cross country team took the Eurostar to Belgium before travelling onward to the Belgium Cross Cup race venue in Hannut. With snow and very cold temperatures forecast, it was set to be an exciting and challenging day of cross country racing!
The Belgium Cross Cup has been running for around 80 years, with the undulating course featuring tight hairpin turns, and a twisting, winding route.
Senior Women (8km)
As the women lined up to start the race the snow started to fall, making the already tough conditions more of a challenge. The senior women’s race included two 1km laps and four 1.5km laps in a twisty, varied course with three jumps to contend with.
The field quickly split with a leading group of five followed by a small gap which Amelia Quirk (Mick Woods, Bracknell AC) was closing, followed closely by Sarah Astin (Geoff Watkin, Belgrave) and Alex Millard (Bill Foster, Invicta). After getting boxed in amongst the other runners at the very narrow start, Lauren McNeil (Hallamshire) did not panic but worked her way through the field - catching Sarah and Alex by the second lap. In challenging conditions, it was a very strong run from all the women, finishing well with Amelia in 6th, followed by Sarah in 9th, Lauren 10th and Alex placing 11th.
- 6th: Amelia Quirk - 29:19
- 9th: Sarah Astin - 29:24
- 10th: Lauren McNeil - 29:27
- 11th: Alexandra Millard - 29:48
Senior Men (9km)
The senior men had a total of seven laps of the course to complete. Less than 100 metres after the start the course narrowed quickly to a ‘pinch point’ followed by a steep drop immediately after - making the sprint from the start line all the more important.
An exceptional start by Joe Wigfield (Craig Winrow, Wirral AC) getting through the first technical parts of the course unscathed and in the top five was motivation enough for Ned Potter (Sonia McGeorge, Newham & Essex Beagles) to chase closely after him. They were followed by Ellis Cross (Mick Woods, Aldershot Farnham & District) and Jack Gray (Mark Vile, Cambridge and Coleridge). In quite a different setting, Wigfield, Cross and Gray were all competing here just one week after the warm and fast conditions of the Valencia road race!
The first kilometre lap passed very quickly, and the runners were back in what seemed a flash with Ned Potter and Joe Wigfield battling it out in 9th and 10th position respectively, both looking very good and in the mood for a tough slog. Further back Ellis Cross and Jack Gray were also battling it out with Jack moving through the field. As is often the case the second and third lap saw little change at the front, but Gray had moved up and was clearly running well with Cross beginning to struggle as he later revealed he lost a shoe at around 400m and had to stop and put this back on, costing him his position from the gun.
As they entered the fourth lap, the pace was relentless at the front - and running well not too far behind were Potter and Wigfield in 7th and 8th really having a battle and holding their own. As the leaders kept pushing and the gaps grew slightly, the hurdles added another dimension of complexity to this course. Joe Wigfield was looking good in around 8th and just holding on to Ned Potter; however on hearing the bell for the last lap, Joe threw himself round the hairpin and down the hill, he was full of energy and determined to have his best ever cross country on his England senior debut.
Joe Wigfield pushed hard despite his miscounting the laps and further back Jack Gray had looked strong and hung on - gradually picking runners off lap after lap. Ellis Cross retired from the race at around 4km. As they came back into view towards the finish Ned Potter’s sustained running had earned him 5th position and Joe Wigfield dug deep on the last lap to finish 8th.
- 5th: Ned Potter (4363) - 29.08
- 8th: Joe Wigfield (4403) - 29.25
- 17th: Jack Gray (3125) - 29.45
- Ellis Cross (3215) DNF
Junior Women (4.5km)
The England women took the race by storm with Innes Fitzgerald (Gavin Pavey, Exeter Harriers) finishing on top of the podium with Rebecca Flaherty (Bingley) close behind in second place.
At the race start Innes Fitzgerald went straight to the front dictating the pace as she usually does in her races. The others followed behind with Hattie Reynolds (Tim Ash, City of Norwich) leading the way whilst sadly Yasmin Kashdan (Vince Golding, Crawley AC) dropped out of the race at the end of the first lap.
Innes continued her dominance leaving Rebecca and Hattie mixed with a couple of representatives of Ireland. Rebecca had an issue having suffered a previous ankle injury but continued in the race. Going into the larger last lap Innes dominated, crossing the finish line first. Rebecca had moved into second place with Hattie fighting hard during the final lap to finish fourth.
- 1st: Innes Fitzgerald - 15.31
- 2nd: Rebecca Flaherty - 16.31
- 3rd: Sophie Nicholls - 16.34 (representing South of England)
- 4th: Hattie Reynolds - 16.41
Junior Men (6km)
The course had a short steep drop off after just 100m, so the athletes stormed away from the start to get to the front and in doing so have a clear view of the first of several obstacles. First to show was Luke Birdseye (Shireen Higgins, Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow) closely followed by Jacob Deacon (Katie Hewison, Chorley ATC), James Dargan (Mick Woods, Aldershot Farnham & District) and Daniel Maydew (Simon Prior, Wells City Harriers). The Irishman, Jonas Stafford, was not going to let the Englishmen have it all their own way and as the first of the shorter 1km laps ended Safford was looking like he could challenge for a podium spot.
The second and third lap saw little change at the front with Birdseye, Deacon and Stafford taking turns to lead. James Dargan was hanging on just a few metres off the pack and looked determined to make the most of his chance to represent England. Further back Daniel Maydew was equally determined to do well. With 3000m remaining the likely outcome was difficult to call but with the longer lap including a series of hurdles, there was a feeling amongst those who knew him that the latter half of the race would suit steeplechaser Luke Birdseye. This proved to be the case with first Deacon and then Birdseye breaking the brave challenge of the Irishman, Jonas Stafford.
The bell rang loudly and as Luke negotiated the tight turn at the start of the final 1500m lap he made his move. The gap between him and fellow Englishman Jacob Deacon opened very quickly. Luke said afterwards that he had planned to take the tight bend into the final lap quickly and then just keep his foot down for the whole of the final 1500m. The tactic worked like a dream as he ran out a clear winner. Jacob chased hard and in doing so he broke clear of the tenacious Irishman (Jonas Stafford). The gaps had opened over the challenging final 1500m with a resurgent James Dargan taking a clear and very respectable 4th place behind Ireland’s Jonas Stafford. Further down the field Daniel Maydew held 12th place.
- 1st: Luke Birdseye (3114) - 19:24
- 2nd: Jacob Deacon - 19:29
- 4th: James Dargan - 19:43
- 8th: Benjamin Peck (representing South of England) - 20:08
- 12th: Daniel Maydew - 20:29