Hickey and Nesbitt win World Cross auto-qualifiers following superb trial performances

Jenny Nesbit

Adam Hickey (running handicap -5.7) & Jenny Nesbitt (handicap -0.9) led the auto-qualifiers for the British team ahead of the World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark at the end of the month.

In difficult conditions, Nesbitt produced a remarkable final loop to run down Jess Piasecki (handicap -1.3) and claim victory in the senior women’s race.

Hickey meanwhile required a sprint finish to deny Euro Cross trials winner Ross Millington (handicap -6.3) the chance to repeat the trick, earning auto-selection to a British team for the first time since 2015.

Nesbitt chased down the Stockport athlete’s six-second lead on the final loop to cut the tape first in 37:52, with Piasecki holding off the challenge of Mhairi MacLennan (handicap -1.2) to take the second automatic qualification spot in 38:05, one second ahead of the Scottish athlete.

Kate Avery’s (handicap -1.4) fourth place finish secured her the Cross Challenge title from Piasecki by six points. The latter tied with MacLennan and Emily Hosker-Thornhill (handicap -1.7) on the same points tally, but Piasecki’s performance on the day earned her second in the standings.

After a solid winter of training, Nesbitt feels she has proved to herself she deserves to be on the world stage and that her performance is testament to the work she has put in over the winter.

She said: “It was really tough out there but that is the sort of cross country that I enjoy because it’s a case of who can grind it out the longest and be patient and it comes down to getting it right on the day and I did that.

“I think that has been the first time I’ve come off and I’ve thought ‘I’ve done that race well today’. In the closing stages, my coach was yelling at me to push on down the hill and I gave it everything about 100m down the hill and as we rounded the corner into the finishing straight, I have to go back and not look back.

It came down to a sprint finish in the senior men’s race as Ross Millington  and Adam Hickey were shoulder-to-shoulder until the home straight, when Hickey kicked clear for victory.

The duo had been at the fore from the off, alongside Oliver Fox (handicap -5.1) and Patrick Dever (handicap -5.7), only to pull away to secure the win by one second in 32:44.

Mahamed Mahamed (handicap -5.8) finished in fifth place, but did enough to secure his second consecutive Cross Challenge title, edging Hickey by just one point.

For Hickey, his performance gives him the chance to run in a British vest again for the first time since 2015.He said: “I kept trying to cover all the moves within the race and I found myself feeling good until I was in the closing stages with Ross and as soon as I was top two, I couldn’t come away with coming home in second place, I had to go for it.

“To gain automatic selection for the world cross team is great and I knew I had to come here and secure my place in the top two.

“I rolled my ankle on two occasions before Christmas which hampered me for the Europeans and since then almost all my runs have been on the road in training, but it just shows that the long runs after work and in the dark are all worth it with a performance like that.

Matt Willis (handicap -2.8) led the Under-20 men auto-qualifiers home with a blistering performance in blustery conditions that saw him home with more than a 100m lead, stopping the clock in 29:26.

The polished performance in the opening race of the day helped Willis to his second victory of the season, having claimed a win in Milton Keynes in his first outing.

The Wrexham athlete was followed home by English National champion Rory Leonard (handicap -4.0), who held off the challenge of fellow North East runner Josh Cowperthwaite (handicap -3.4), recording times of 29:38 and 29:43 respectively to take the remaining automatic qualifying spots.

In testing conditions out on the course, Willis’ victory was his first at the Inter Counties and he felt he ran a near perfect race to secure victory.

“It was very windy out there and I used that to my advantage given my triathlon training and I was able to use that to my advantage. I stayed in the pack where it was sheltered and I gave it a good kick at the end.

“Last year I came here and blew up and I couldn’t risk doing that again. Inter Counties has been my weak link in my career from Under-13 level where I came 212th. Since then I’ve had a sixth, 17th, seventh and a second, but today I’ve finally managed to get the elusive win.”

The women’s equivalent saw Grace Brock (handicap 0.3) stamp her authority on the Prestwold Hall course and secure her auto-selection for world cross, and secure back-to-back Cross Challenge titles in the process.

Brock had to bide her time in a cagey opening to the race, before making a move just after the half way stage to open up a healthy lead from Amelia Samuels (handicap 2.8), stopping the clock in 21:19, seven seconds clear of Samuels.

The third automatic qualification spot in a sprint finish went the way of Olivia Mason (handicap 2.0), who held off Eloise Walker (handicap 1.5) by a two-second margin, clocking 21:37.

For Brock will earn her third British vest in four months when she heads out to Aarhus and achieving selection for the team caps a perfect winter for her.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t going for the win just to solidify that title but to get auto selection for the world cross is just amazing. Two weeks ago I went off too hard and paid for it at the end in the English Nationals and I wanted to measure it more. I got my lead on the downhill section and tried to stretch that out.

“It’s amazing to get another British vest, this was my main goal and to follow Euro Cross with World Cross is just amazing and this whole winter season has been a dream come true,” she said.

Results on this link.