Tirunesh Dibaba wins the 2013 Bupa Great Manchester Run
The summer track season might now be in full bloom but a head-to-head between the 5000m and 10,000m World record holder Kenenisa Bekele and World marathon record holder Wilson Kipsang keeps some of the spotlight on the roads at the Bupa Great Manchester Run, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Sunday (18).
The pair have never met before over any distance, but one would imagine Bekele should have a narrow edge over Kipsang at 10km.
Bekele’s impressive 2:05:04 debut in the Paris Marathon might not have created quite the headlines of Kipsang's second victory in the London Marathon, but Bekele has had an extra week of recovery and training, plus the distance should benefit the World record holder on the track.
However, Kipsang told the press on Friday (16)that he has recovered sufficiently from winning in London last month in a course record of 2:04:29, and sees no reason why he can't run a fast time at 10km off the back of his marathon training.
“The distance will be short, but I’m used to it too,” said Kipsang, whose 10km best of 27:42 was an intermediate mark en route to a 58:59 half marathon.
“When training for the marathon, I work on my speed from 10k and build up. I’ve done a lot of 10k runs. When you are strong, when you are in shape, when you feel good, it’s easy to run a good time over 10k.
"I don’t really have a race plan – for me, I need to be ready for anything as he (Kenenisa) may be planning to do something so I have to be ready from the start," added the Kenyan.
Bekele also feels refreshed after his marathon debut, and said he doesn't feel like he's lost any speed despite upping the mileage.
The Ethiopian also hasn't lost over 10km since 2001, when he was second to his illustrious compatriot Haile Gebrselassie at the Great Ethiopian Run that year.
Last year's anticipated head-to-head between Kipsang and Haile Gebrselassie was gate-crashed by Uganda's Moses Kipsiro, but it would be a considerable shock if anyone from the pack upstaged the two World record holders this year.
Stephen Mokoka, from South Africa, could upgrade to a podium finish after finishing fourth in last year's race.
He finished 12th at the World Half Marathon Championships in a personal best of 1:00:47 and won his domestic title at this distance at altitude in 29:16.
Spain’s Ayad Lamdassem also has a good record in this race.
He pushed Gebrselassie back in 2010 before eventually having to settle for second in a still-standing best of 28:09 but a recent half marathon personal best of 1:01:22 suggests this mark might be due for some revision if it's a fast race.
Other leading names include Abdellatif Meftah from France and Javier Guerra from Spain, while the leading British runners in the field include 2012 Olympian Nick McCormick, and steeplechaser-turned-marathoner Andrew Lemoncello.
Dibaba against the clock?
The 10km might not be her optimum distance, but Priscah Jeptoo would have provided a palpable challenge to Tirunesh Dibaba if a stress fracture sustained during the London Marathon hadn't forced her to withdraw recently.
With the Kenyan absent, surely Dibaba will ease to a comfortable defence of her title as she begins to refocus on shorter distances this summer?
Dibaba made a sterling debut in the London Marathon last month which could have been even better if she hadn’t fumbled her water bottle at the feeding station at the 30km mark.
The debutante haemorrhaged seconds as she retraced her footsteps, but Dibaba regained her rhythm quickly and held onto a third-place finish in the third fastest debut time ever of 2:20:35.
She might be on slightly tired legs but the multiple world and Olympic champion still decimated the course record last year despite not being at her very best.
This race was her first competitive appearance post-calf injury, and she was in vintage form.
Dibaba stayed with the pack in the opening stages but once the engine had warmed up, the two-time Olympic champion covered the second half under world record pace in 15:09, motoring to Manchester's first ever sub-31 clocking of 30:49.
She also sped to a second-half split of 15:09 when she moved to fourth on the all-time rankings with 30:30 in Tilburg last September.
To reiterate Dibaba's margin of ascendancy on this field, nobody has come within a minute of this mark.
Outright marathon specialists such as France’s Christelle Daunay and Italy’s Valeria Straneo can also expect to be vying for a podium finish based on their form at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in March, when they finished seventh and eighth respectively in under 69 minutes.
If Dibaba doesn't take it out from the gun, expect Straneo to take the pace as she is a renowned front-runner.
Putting Dibaba to one side, the rest of the field is very evenly matched.
Great Britain’s Gemma Steel has the second fastest 10km lifetime best at 31:36 and a recent win over ten miles at the Great Edinburgh Run proves she's back in form after a calf injury forced her to miss the London Marathon.
Ana Dulce Felix is a perennial fixture on podiums on the UK road-racing circuit, and the leading Portuguese runner is capable of challenging for a podium finish provided she's recovered from her eighth-place finish in the London Marathon in 2:26:46.
Her 10km best of 32:18 isn't too special, but this was set on a notoriously hilly course in Dublin five years ago.
Other names to watch include the sole Kenyan in the field, Pauline Njeru, who set a 69:06 half marathon personal best in March; France’s 2013 European Cross Country Championships gold medallist Sophie Duarte and Alessandra Aguilar, from Spain.
Steven Mills for the IAAF