In contrast to the conditions at Santry for the Masters Home International Cross-Country on Saturday, the going was firm and fast on the flat course lying just over 3,000 feet above sea level almost half way between Madrid and Bilbao. It was the 12th edition of the most prestigious annual cross-country race in Spain – the Cross de Atapuerca – at a site of neolithic man and on the Camino Santiago near to the medieval city of Burgos. While Ireland recently endured it’s traditional wet and windy autumnal spell (with winds in excess of 100km/h last Thursday), the Iberian Peninsula at the same time has been basking in what represents a good summer’s day in Ireland.
Race day was no different with the temperature in the sun under the blue skies reaching more than 20 degrees. Just as in traditional meetings in Ireland, the main races are preceded by a range of under-age events and all in all over 5,000 athletes participated on the day. There were only two Irish representatives this year and both in the Women’s 8km race – Rose-Anne Galligan, Irish 800m record-holder and World Championships 2013 participant in Moscow and Newcastle AC’s Kerry O’Flaherty World Championships 2015 participant in the Steeplechase in Beijing. The field was packed with the top 20 women from Spain all vying to make the EuroCross team plus Ethiopia’s Olijira Belaynesh (bronze over 10,000 at 2013 World Champs) and Heroye Alemitu (4th in the World Cross-Country 2015). The field also included top Polish athletes, Iwona Lewandoska (2:27 in London Marathon 2015) and Dominika Napieraj and a strong team from England including Louise Damen winner at the Milton Keynes British Cross Challenge last weekend.
The winner was Belaynesh closely followed by compatriot Heroye. O’Flaherty came home in 17th in 27:30 for the 8k (5 miles) distance (a first time top-20 in this race in 4 attempts) with Galligan in 33rd in 28:11 illustrating significant improvement in her form following 18 tough months of injury.