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Andy Vernon

27 November 2010

Full results for the McCain Liverpool Cross Challenge incorporating the European Trials can be downloaded below.

Defending McCain UK Cross Challenge Series champion Andy Vernon (coach: Nick Anderson) won the senior men’s title and automatic selection onto the Aviva Great Britain and Northern Ireland team for December’s SPAR European Cross Country Championships with a hard-fought victory in today’s McCain Liverpool Cross Challenge in Sefton Park (Saturday 27 November).

Vernon was in the leading pack from the off, but as the large group – which included all of the main contenders in the early stages – moved into the second small loop of three in a 9.8km course, a lead trio of Vernon alongside Mark Draper (coach: Andy Hobdell) and Ryan McLeod (coach: John Nuttall) held a slight advantage.

Going into the final lap, 2009 European Cross Country Championships junior bronze medallist James Wilkinson (coach: Phil Townsend) had moved into contention and latched onto to the leaders and there was no doubt that the race would go down to the wire.

Vernon’s determination eventually secured the win in 28:45, with Wilkinson taking second (28:46) – first under-23 – and Draper in third (28:48).

“I wanted to come here and make a statement,” said the Aldershot athlete who completed another successful series of performances for the Hampshire outfit. “Ideally I’d have wanted to win by a bit more but the guys were in great shape. I actually started to think I might have gone out a bit quick but I knew who was in the field and that if I was working hard then they’d be working hard too. I was impressed with Wilko.”

And so were many others. Having sat comfortably back in the pack over the opening laps Wilkinson stayed in control as he moved through the field. “The idea was to sit and let the others do the work,” he admitted. “I stayed relaxed and kicked when it mattered.”

A hugely relieved Mitch Goose (coach: Tim and Pauline Ash) – having returned to the UK after a disappointing finish in Monday’s NCAA Cross Country Championships – was rewarded for his commitment with a third place under-23 finish and automatic Aviva GB & NI team spot. “It’s been one of the hardest weeks of my life,” he said, “I’ve been so stressed.”

The senior women’s 8.1km  race, which on paper perhaps looked more predictable than the men’s, created its own surprise storyline as Louise Damen (self-coached) returned to the competitive cross country fold for the first time in almost two years and won in style. “I was hoping I hadn’t lost my touch,” she admitted after finishing 14 seconds clear of second placed Hatti Dean (coach: Bud Baldaro) in 26:32.

“I felt really strong, although it was quite short for me,” she continued. “I came off a good 10k last weekend so I knew I was in shape, but more than anything it was just nice to be back. I split a tendon in my ankle and missed so much of last year that I wanted to have fun today – that’s what I do it for and I’m just so grateful to be here.”

Helen Clitheroe (coach: John Nuttall) took the early lead but Dean moved to the front on the penultimate lap with Damen coming through into second. The Winchester athlete then took the lead on the final lap and soon had a significant gap on second-placed Dean which increased towards the finish. Gemma Steel (coach: Roy Stowell) finished third in 27.00.

Emma Pallant (coach: Mick Woods) - like Damen, delighted to be running pain free after her own injury troubles - took the first of three under-23 team positions with a fifth place finish overall (27:04), while defending champion Hayley Yelling-Higham (coach: Conrad Milton), who admitted she'd run today because she hadn’t raced all winter, suffered badly with a cold and finished seventh (27:33).

As expected, Charlotte Purdue (coach: Mick Woods) dominated the junior women’s 4.4km trial race.

Jessica Judd (coach: Jeremy Freeman) - an under-17 and too young to be considered for selection - and Emelia Gorecka (coach: Mick Woods) set the pace in the early stages but were soon joined by Purdue and Kate Avery (coach: Bob Ashwood) who had returned on Thursday from a UKA/London Marathon altitude training camp in Kenya.

As Purdue eased herself into the race and moved into a clear lead there was no doubt she would take the victory. Her lead grew over the final lap and she finished in 14:12, well clear of Gorecka in second (14:29) with Avery in third (14:36). Judd faded and finished 12th overall but had the comfort of taking second in the under-17 event.

“I was really looking forward to it today because I hadn’t run too well in Mansfield at the relays (National Cross Country Relay Championships) and I wanted to get back out there,” said Purdue who only concluded her summer track season at October’s Commonwealth Games in Delhi. “I was in the middle of a block of training at the relays so I was confident coming into this because I know what hard work I’ve been putting in. Through it all my focus has been the Europeans and I’ve only done a minor taper for this.”

Gorecka, the 2009 champion and outright winner of the combined race on that occasion, was delighted to secure her automatic selection spot after being too young a year ago. “I knew Charlie was strong and I gave her a lot of respect, but all the girls here are strong. I’ve been a bit inconsistent in my training because I’ve not been too well lately but I felt really strong myself today. I hadn’t raced many of these girls this year so I just had to go out the way I always do and take it on.”

The junior men’s 6.7km trial race - which had promised so much - didn’t disappoint.

Derby’s Ben Connor (coach: Jerry Hall) and Thomas Bishop (coach: Malcolm Brown) were the surprise leaders through the first of two long laps, but as the runners moved back into spectator view from the trees on the far side of the course on the final lap, Aldershot’s Jonathan Hay (coach: Mick Woods) kicked in style and burst into a clear lead.

He was chased by Luton’s John McDonnell (coach: John Stoker) – who trains with the strong Mick Woods-coached group at St Mary’s – for a short period before being eventually run-down as McDonnell raced clear to take the win.

“I’m working hard with the group at St Mary’s and it’s paying off,” said McDonnell who clocked 20:10. “Mansfield was a bit of shock for me and I felt under pressure to perform today, but I’m so excited about Portugal now.”

Hay was magnanimous in defeat. “I made the mistake of trying to break too early, but the big one’s in two week’s time," he said. "It backfired a bit on me but I’ve finished in an automatic selection spot and I’m happy. Training is getting better and better and I’m targeting a medal in Portugal at the Europeans.”

He finished in 20:13 to Connor’s 20:15 for third.

The McCain UK Cross Challenge age group titles went to: under-17s Alice Wright (Worcester) and Harvey Dixon (AFD); under-15s Harriet Preedy (AFD) - who overhauled defending Series champion Abbie Hetherington (Carlisle) in the finish loop - and Adam Howard (Oldham & Royton); under-13s Elizabeth Greenwood (Blackburn) and Ashley Waterson (City of Norwich) and under-11s Eleanor Kenny (Manchester Harriers) and Ryan Gray (Inverclyde).