Cyprian Kotut wins in Amorebieta (© Unai Sasuátegui)
Cyprian Kotut is proving himself to be just as proficient on the mud as he is on the roads as the sub-one hour half-marathon runner took another high-profile victory on Spanish soil at the 'Cross Internacional Zornotza' in Amorebieta, which played host to the 1993 World Cross-Country Championships, on Sunday (5).
He first came to the awareness of the cross-country fraternity just before Christmas with a tight victory in Venta de Banos, which was thought to be his first cross-country race internationally, and the 22-year-old retained this form in taking the scalp of World Cross Country fifth-place finisher Timothy Toroitich from Uganda in the climax of a closely contested 10.7km race, 33:28 to 33:29.
Kotut, who chose to employ the waiting game until the last 400m as Toroitich ground out the pace, might fancy a tilt at the African Cross Country Championships based on his form over the past month although Toroitich will almost certainly be out to impress as those championships take place on home soil in the Ugandan capital of Kampala in March.
The race for the domestic stakes was equally compelling with Ayad Lamdassem finishing just ahead of Javier Guerra, 33:48 to 33:49, to comprise the podium.
European cross-country champion Alemayehu Bezabeh, weakened by a head cold, didn't feature at all. He was the fourth Spaniard to finish, and sixth overall, in 34:12.
Magdalene Masai, the younger sister of 2009 world 10,000m champion Linet, joined some illustrious company by becoming only the third woman to successfully defend this title after Gete Wami in 2000 and Vivian Cheruiyot in 2008.
The 20-year-old's victory was fairly decisive in the end as she won the 6.7km contest in 23:55, seven seconds ahead of perennial podium finisher in cross-country races this winter Rebecca Cheptegei from Uganda.
Home favourite Lidia Rodriguez finished strongly in third in 24:04 ahead of Marta Tigabea from Ethiopia in 24:09.
Kiplagat braves the heat in Eldoret
In-form Florence Kiplagat prevailed in testing conditions at the sixth and final AK/KCB Cross Country series meet in Eldoret on Sunday (5).
Running in temperatures above 20C, the two-time Berlin Marathon winner probably found the course more to her liking than others as the undulating nature of it made it a true test of endurance and the sub-2:20 marathon runner duly scored a commanding win in the senior women's 8km race in 26:24.
Beatrice Mutai, a non-scoring member of Kenya's gold medal-winning team at the IAAF World Cross-Country Championships this year, took the runner-up spot in 26:34.
Her younger sister Faith Kipyegon, the Kenyan 1500m record-holder at 3:56.98, fell mid-race but recovered to finish fifth in 27:01.
The junior women's 6km race also went to form with world and African junior cross-country silver medallist Agnes Tirop, in her final season as a junior, taking the spoils in 20:04, four seconds ahead of Sheila Keter.
In the senior 12km race, Kiprono Kurgat, a regular starter on the US road-racing circuit who spends most of the year based in North Carolina, took a noteworthy win in 35:14 ahead of Julius Kogo and Charles Kibet, second and third in 35:25 and 35:40 respectively.
Local journalists reported two-time New York Marathon champion Geoffrey Mutai was among the starters but it appears he dropped out on the last lap when he was in third.
World 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop ran the first 5km as a training run before stepping off the course.
The little known Franklin Ngelel won the junior men's 8km race in 23:17 ahead of Moses Mukono and Davis Kiplagat in 23:21 and 23:23 respectively.
Meanwhile, Barnabas Sigei and Chemweno Langat prevailed at the Kenyan Administration Police Cross Country Championships, held at the familiar venue of the Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi on Saturday (4).
Sigei, who told reporters his next major goal is the Vienna Marathon on 13 April, prevailed in the 12km race in 36:01 while Langat pulled away from Susan Cherotich to win the women's 8km race in 28:04.
Both winners are likely to be in action at the Kenyan Police Service Cross Country Championships at the Ngong Race Course in Nairobi next weekend but the next big date on the Kenyan cross-country calendar is the National Trials/IAAF Cross Country permit meet on February 15 in Nairobi.
Steven Mills for the IAAF