Perez takes the tape in Turin (© Peter Thompson IAAF-AMS)
He didn’t know it until the last 50 metres but Jefferson Perez landed his first major title for five years.
The 1996 Olympic champion cashed-in on the late disqualification of Roman Rassakov on a day where temperatures soared to an unseasonable 25oC.
“The circuit was tiring and my legs suffered. I really wanted to win but I was not sure until I saw that Rassakov was disqualified.
”I was retired for nine months after the Olympics in Sydney, and only came back five weeks before the World Championships last year.
“I have no coach at the moment – so maybe there is one out there who would like to take me on,” was how the Ecuadorian saw it.
The course for the 20th World Cup couldn’t have been more central if it ran through Torino’s town hall even if some of the paved surfaces raised questions.
The Italians know their walking and the gods smiled kindly on the city after three days of rain. The sun shone and maybe this together with home expectations saw three white home shirts tear into the lead. Marco Giungi had stepped down from 50k and it was he that took a slight lead from a chasing pack of 19 after the first lap.
By the time the pack reached 5k in 20:21, Hatem Ghoula from Tunisia was first through the mark but Perez and Vladimir Andreyev were lurking dangerously close.
The group had shed four by halfway with Giungi and Lorenzo Chivallero suffering from their rash start. By now the pace had slowed to one of the slowest splits in the last decade as far as World Cup walking is concerned but Gandellini was still there being roared on at every metre on the packed course.
At 15k there was no mistaking the intentions of the leading six.
The split of 19:31 decided who was going to win but there was still little to choose between two Russians, two Mexicans, a Spaniard and Perez with Italian hopes beginning to sag.
At the bell, barely a metre covered the leading five but as they upped the gears for the final 2k.
In less than 400 metres it was three spearheading the charge. Andreyev was hanging on by the skin of his teeth, while Rasskazov took the lead for the first time.
The 2001 World champion was flying, but unfortunately for him it soon became literal as he forged a five metre gap on Perez.
The Russian must have thought his second great victory was only a kilometre away, but his third DQ card stopped him dead in his tracks and left the Ecuadorean a grateful winner.
Andreyev picked up his second major silver medal of the year following his runner-up spot to Franciso Fernandez in the European championships. But the joy of Alejandro Cambil was short-lived.
The Spaniard only qualified for his team a month ago, but no sooner had he thrown up his arms in triumph than a judge told him he had shared the same fate as Rassakov.
The team race was a close affair with Russia shading from Belarus despite losing Rassakov. Italy had the consolation of bronze despite its walkers’ early rush of blood to the head.