19 Nov Liverpool Cross Challenge & Euro Trials // Eightlane Preview & Predictions – Seniors

Last year’s Euro Trials sprang some surprise winners as Jonny Taylor and Jess Coulson scored impressive victories to grab guaranteed spots to the European Cross Country Championships in Budapest.

GB’s senior men – Jonny Taylor, Andy Vernon, Steve Vernon, Tom Humphries, Keith Gerrard and Tom Farrell (picked following his 9th place finish at the NCAAs) – went on to win team bronze in Hungary, with Farrell leading the team home in fourth.

The senior women’s side – minus Couslon, who was the leading U23 and would go on to win gold in that event in Budapest – matched the men’s team bronze as Louise Damen led the team featuring Caryl Jones, Beth Potter, Elle Baker, Rosie Smith, Emily Wicks and Katrina Wootton with an 11th-placed finish.

This weekend sees the cross country action return to Liverpool as GB’s best try to secure their spot on the plane to Belgrade, Serbia on December 8th. The top-4 will see themselves automatically selected, with Gemma Steel lining up the firm favourite to take home the senior women’s title and Andy Vernon just about shading an open men’s race.

Senior Women

Gemma Steel

• Gemma will be the big favourite for the win.
• At the National Road Relays she ran the quickest leg by 15 seconds.
• Her performances over the road this year have allowed her to mix it with the best in the world. The half marathon in Birmingham demonstrated Steel’s ability over the long distance and showed that she is now becoming Britain’s top female distance runner.
• Her intentions have been made clear – she wants to be crowned European Cross Country champion.
• In the past Steel has showed that she can compete with the best in Europe. Her highest position at the Europeans was 3rd in 2011.Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 23.49.10

Steph Twell

• Steph has raced at the Europeans five times: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012.
• She is yet to win the senior trial; her highest finish was 5th in 2011.
• Recent performances have been very encouraging – she ran the quickest time on leg two at the National XC Relays & the third quickest time at the National Road Relays last month.

Lauren Howarth

• Lauren recently said her sessions were the best they have ever been, demonstrating her confidence ahead of the trials.
• In October, Lauren ran a 4 mile road race in Groningen (19.58) where she placed 7th behind the Africans.
• She competed at the National XC Relays, running the 2nd quickest leg on leg two. She was also in the top 10 quickest times of the day.
• Trial performances in the past have been very solid for Lauren; last year she finished 10th overall in the senior race but placed 5th U23. Her European performance highlighted how she can perform at the major championships as she placed 5th. Her best-placed finish at the Europeans was as an under 20 where she finished 3rd.

Louise Damen

• Louise finished third overall in the race last year but she was the first senior across the line. Her previous trials record is impressive; although she didn’t compete in 2011, Louise won the trials in 2010.
353_31835563356_3792_n Post-Christmas last season, Louise was the in-form female cross country runner. She was the first Brit at Antrim, dominated the Cardiff Cross Challenge (winning by 66 seconds) and went on to win both the Nationals and the Inter-Counties.
• Damen’s summer was ruined by injury but her most recent race last week at the Leeds Abbey Dash confirmed that her lay-off hasn’t hindered her ability – she won the race and also gained a 10k personal best (33:04).
• If Damen can regain the form that she showed at the beginning of the year, she could be Steel’s biggest challenge.

There are a number of other girls who could also challenge for a team position:
Juliet Potter – recently finished 4th at the Cross lnternational de Soria, finishing first Brit ahead of Deadman, Brough and Jones.
Katie Brough – won the first cross challenge in Bristol last month and finished 9th at the meeting in Soria.
Jackie Fairchild – finished runner up to Brough at the Manchester League and ran a very strong relay leg at the National XC Relays.
Louise Deadman – recently finished 7th at the Soria meeting.
Stevie Stockton – ran the second quickest leg at the National XC Relays.

Senior Men

Andy Vernon

• Andy has been in every European XC team since 2005, with his best positions on the continent being second in 2005 (U20) and 2008 (U23) and worst position 14th (2006).
• Andy has won the senior trials 4 times and will start favourite for the race.
• Will be after revenge after beign denied a hat-trick of victories last year by Jonny Taylor.
• His build up has been faultless – he ran a European best of 17:35 over 4 miles against a top international field in Groningen.
• Showed his strength last month in finishing 4th at the BUPA Great South Run, running sub-50 on his debut over the distance and beating a very strong British and European field.
• Dominated earlier this month with the fastest leg of the day on stage two at the National XC Relays.

308931_10151190892506289_1264268937_n (1)Ryan McLeod

• Ryan has shown a real return to form after sitting out over a year through injury in 2012.
• Since his first race in 71 weeks back in April, Ryan has built his fitness over the summer and ran his second fastest road 10k ever in September at the BUPA Great Yorkshire Run (29:40).
• He ran the fastest leg at the National Road Relays last month and finished seventh (two seconds behind Chris Thompson) at the BUPA Great South Run.
• McLeod finished third on his last visit to Liverpool and will be looking to hit the top-3 again.

Keith Gerrard

21318_10152849467945425_1684913707_n• Gerrard hasn’t raced on the domestic cross country scene since he won the National title in mudbath conditions in February.
• Since October, Gerrard has been based in New Mexico and his preparations have mirrored that from when he won the Nationals in February and the Inter-Counties in 2012.
• Gerrard finished fifth last year and is yet to win the senior race at Liverpool, his highest position being fourth in 2008.

Mark Draper

• Draper is known as a track specialist rather then a mud lover but he has had previous success at the trials – in 2011 he finished second behind Vernon before going on to finish 22nd at the European XC.
• Ran a 8:41.56 3k S/C PB in the summer but hasn’t raced since the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games at the end of July.
• If the conditions are firm, Draper will challenge for a top-3 position.

Chris Thompson

• Chris saw a lot of action on the roads in October, running 64:49 at the BUPA Great Scotland Run before finishing second (63:03) at the BUPA Great Birmingham Run and placing 6th at the BUPA Great South Run (50:04) just one week later.
• Last time Thompson ran over cross country was in 2010, where he placed 7th at the Great Edinburgh International.
• His last European XC appearance was in 2009 when he finished 55th. If Thompson runs this weekend, he should be challenging for a top-3 spot.

Other potential top-6 finishers:
1383011_10152472615562565_1711678859_nAdam Hickey – finished second in the first Cross Challenge of the winter in Bristol before a top-25 placing at the Cross Internacional de Soria, Spain earlier this month.
Nick Goolab – ‘won’ the opening leg and clocked the second-fastest leg overall at the National XC Relays and has enjoyed previous success at Liverpool, finishing 14th (2nd U23) in 2012.
Nick Torry – the in-form athlete this autumn, with PBs over distances from 10k to the marathon. Ran 2:15:04 in Frankfurt four weeks ago and finished second in his one and only cross country outing so far this winter in the first Met League at Claybury.
Frank Tickner – the Southerns & Inter-Counties XC champion is a consistent top-6 sinisher at Liverpool, placing 6th, 6th and 5th in the last three years and two runners-up spots in ’07 and ’08.
Jonny Taylor – don’t discount the challenge from the defending champion; he was forced to pull out mid-race in Soria due to illness but did win his only other appearance over cross country so far this season in the North East Harrier League.

Words: Tasha Doel & Chris Rainsford