Cross Internacional ‘Juan Muguerza’ report – 2023

The town of Elgoibar in the Basque region of Northern Spain is the home of its now famous annual international cross country event named after local runner Juan Muguerza, a multiple national champion who was killed in 1937 during the Spanish civil war.

The competition was first held in 1943 between national level runners but changed in 1963 to an international event. The first foreign winner was Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia who went on to win three more times.

This has been a very strong event for many years with a deep contingent of African and top European runners contesting the men’s and women’s events annually. Many have had success (including winning) either the European cross country or world cross country championships.

At the 79th staging of the race on Sunday 8 January, England featured strong teams across the senior women’s, senior men’s, junior women’s, and junior men’s races. Read on to find out how our athletes fared.

Senior women’s race – England’s contingent

  • 6th – Poppy Tank (Coach: Alistair and Amy Cragg, Club: City of Plymouth)
  • 10th – Amelia Quirk (Mick Woods, Bracknell AC)
  • 13th – Niamh Bridson-Hubbard (Phil O’Dell, Blackheath & Bromley)
  • 18th – Rebecca Murray (Craig Winrow, Bedford & County)

 Amelia Quirk, Niamh Bridson-Hubbard, Poppy Tank, Rebecca Murray

As with previous years, it was a stellar field in the senior women’s race with runners from around Europe and Africa competing on the course with its varied underfoot conditions and undulating sections.

The senior ladies ran one small lap and three large laps of this course over 7.62miles. The race started at a pedestrian pace around the track and all the team positioned themselves well, Tank and Quirk towards the front of the field and Bridson-Hubbard and Murray tucking in the middle section.

Going into the small lap the pace picked up and started to stretch out. Bridson-Hubbard and Murray had spotted the break and moved up the field towards the front with Tank and Quirk. Steph Twell was pushing the pace and leading the field into the first of the large three laps taking the elite athletes with her. Tank was just sitting off the first group in 8th place with Quirk and Bridson-Hubbard following close behind in 9th and 10th respectively.

The pace didn’t let up and the positions did not change significantly until the final lap. Tank ran strongly and picked up two places to finish in an impressive 6th place. Quirk held her position and finished in 10th and the fast finishes of the Spanish just pushed Bridson-Hubbard into 13th position. Murray paced her race well and moved through the field to finish in 18th. The team enjoyed the race and atmosphere and were pleased with their performances.

Senior men’s race – England’s contingent

  • 9th – Zak Mahamed (Coach: Idris Hamud, Club: Southampton AC)
  • 10th – Alex George (Paul De-Camps; Birchfield Harriers)
  • 15th – Tomer Tarragano (Dean Miller, Brighton & Hove)
  • 17th – Callum Elson (Cambridge & Coleridge)

Callum Elson, Zak Mahamed, Tomer Tarragano, Alex George with Team Manager Eamonn Martin

A strong field was assembled in the senior men’s race as is usual for Elgoibar. England’s Zak Mahamed and Alex George found themselves well inside the top 10 as they ventured up the first of many hills. One large lap later and Mahamed was 8th in the second pack chasing a breakaway group of four. George was in 10th just clear of the pack of eight which included Tomer Tarragano in 15th (the 37th under-23 in the European cross in Turin) and Callum Elson 16th (Great Britain’s relay representative in the Euros in Turin) both mixing with very good company here.

As the race passed half-way, Mahamed (2nd in the European under-23 cross country in Turin and winner of the junior race here a few years back) found himself very slightly detached in 9th with George 30-metres behind in 10th but showing why his early form this winter at both Cardiff and Milton Keynes was more representative of his current running form this season. The battle behind with Tarragano and Elson locked together in a group and often swapping positions between 16th and 18th respectively was equally engaging.

As in most races there were few changes in the positions after halfway and the most significant one was the relentless rain subsiding and the sun coming out for the last 2km of the final race of the day. Mahamed was now consolidated in 9th and equally George in 10th, both safely clear of 11th place.

Strong last laps from both Tarragano and Elson found them both ‘dig in’ as their personal battle ensued and at the end Tarragano 15th and Elson 17th were good performances. For Elson, this much longer hilly race of 10.6km compared to his recent short distance races at both Liverpool and subsequently the European relay in Turin was a good example of his longer cross country form he showed in both Cardiff and Milton Keynes in October and November, respectively.

Again, a strong run from Mahamed and exceptional performance from George at the longer distance before he ventures indoors for the rest of the winter season. Although there have been several individual top 10 finishers for England in recent years, it has been a long time since two men finished inside 10 in the one race.

Junior women’s race – England’s contingent

  • 1st – Zoe Gilbody (Coach: John Shevington, Club: Wreake & Soar Valley)
  • 2nd – Libby Huxley (Andy Bibby, Preston)
  • 7th – Kiya Dee (Cheltenham)
  • 13th – Pippa Roessler (Mick Woods, Aldershot Farnham & District)

Kiya Dee, Libby Huxley, Pippa Roessler, Zoe Gilbody

England saw a welcome return to days of old with Zoe Gilbody taking the individual win followed by Libby Huxley in second. The day was like last year, very wet which meant that the athletes reviewed their spike choice.

The race started with the England team to the fore as Gilbody, Huxley and Dee led the athletes out on the first small lap. At the end of the first small lap, they were still leading. By the end of the second small lap Gilbody had moved ahead of Huxley with Dee a distant third. The conditions made for a difficult transition to the grass from the steep climb.

Gilbody held on to win the race comfortably, Huxley edged closer to her but remained 2nd, Dee struggled on the uphill climb on the last lap and dropped from 3rd to 7th. Roessler struggled with the conditions but was able to finish 13th. The athletes are now looking to gain selection for the World Cross Country in Australia in February 2023.

Junior men’s race – England’s contingent

  • 2nd – Edward Bird (Coach: Mark Pauley, Club: Poole AC)
  • 3rd – Samuel Mills (Harry Mills, Exeter Harriers)
  • 6th – Rowan Miel-Ingram (Wendy Miel-Ingram, Radley AC)
  • 22nd – Jack Small (Stella Bandu, Ashford AC)

Rowan MieI-Ingram, Sam Mills, Ed Bird, Jack Small

A strong England team was faced with the twin challenge of a tough course and a strong French team. The gun fired and with the smoke still hanging in the air the charge to get to the head of the pack was on. It was clear even after the first lap of the track that the race for the leading places would be between England and France. England’s Edward Bird was the first to show and with the confidence that a 9th place finish in the recent European Championships in Turin had given him, he seemed happy to lead and set the early pace.

Tucked in and in close attendance was 4th placer in Turin, Samuel Mills. Rowan Miel-Ingram and debutant Jack Small were only a few paces back and in the top 10. The athletes settled into their running with little changing in the first two small laps with the real rave yet to start. Things got serious as the leaders started the first of the two large laps and the hills they included. The pace was hot and as Bird, Mills, and the Frenchman, Imad El Goumri, tackled the long hill for the first time behind the main stand it looked like the enthusiastic start was beginning to have its effect on the field.

The fast descent and the short sharp climb at the back of the course had little effect on the lead pack with Bird still cutting out the pace with Mills and the Frenchman. The relentless pace the leaders were setting coupled with the tough conditions was clearly having a major impact down the field as gaps began to show.

One more big lap remained and at this stage the result was difficult to call. With high hopes of an England one, two, the final climb up behind the main stand proved decisive. Imad El Goumri broke away leaving Bird and Mills to fight it out for the 2nd and 3rd spots on the podium. This time Bird managed to turn the tables on his England and GB teammate, coming home a clear second with Mills finishing third place. Miel-Ingram had run a very solid race but lost touch at the midpoint. He rallied well at the end to claw his way back up the field and into a very respectable 6th place. Small, who had suffered in the later stages of the race, finished disappointed in 22nd.

Overall, it was a good team performance, and a great learning experience was had by all as they continue on their development pathways.