Priest and James take opening wins

JAMES PRIEST stole a march on his potential FNB Cross-Country Series rivals with a dominant victory in the ‘Stonecrusher’ opener at L’Ancresse.

Eventual race winner James Priest (orange vest) and Sam Lesley lead the field at the start of the opening race of the new FNB Cross-Country Series. (Picture by Phil Nicolle,28811514)
Eventual race winner James Priest (orange vest) and Sam Lesley lead the field at the start of the opening race of the new FNB Cross-Country Series. (Picture by Phil Nicolle,28811514)

With the Hampshire Championships off the agenda and no definite replacement yet, athletes such as Priest and women’s winner Jenny James have their sights set on a largely domestic season.

That does not mean that the four-part local series won’t be a worthy focus.

The opener welcomed a record field of 170 runners and in coming fixtures the quarantining Will Bodkin, plus Guernsey Marathon hopefuls Nick Mann and Richard Friedrich, can be expected to bolster the sharp end.

But with his core rivals missing the three-lap, nearly three-mile race for those reasons, Priest’s 15min. 53sec. time made him a clear winner.

It also gave him a welcome head-start on regaining a title he last won two seasons ago.

Beyond the numerous rabbit holes on course, there was one major obstacle for ‘Priesty’ – middle-distance prospect Sam Lesley.

Lesley pressured him from early on and, with a fairly recent sub-16min. road 5km behind him, seemed a worthy rival.

Yet Lesley is still finding his consistency over these distances and a telling gap had developed by the first passing of the landmark Loophole Tower No. 5.

Priest hit the lap point in a rapid 5-04, with Lesley just under 15sec. back and improving triathlete Chris Norman running strongly in third.

Positions were shifting behind them and in the battle for top woman, young Summer Woodhead had an early lead.

Lesley soon began to pay for the fast start as Priest’s lead quickly became insurmountable.

This left the race for runner-up open again, with Norman and former sub-4min. 1500m runner Mike Batiste the prime challengers to Lesley’s claim.

Lesley found new vigour after a hard and lonely second lap, but even so Norman managed to emerge ahead on passing Tower No. 5 for the third time and with just 400m left.

Thankfully for Lesley, the gap remained small enough that he could reclaim silver-medal position and his highest cross-country series finish yet with a burst of his well-honed speed.

Lesley clocked 17-06 and Norman finished just 3sec. back in an encouraging showing. Batiste took fourth and another triathlete in Dave Mosley fifth.

As for Priest, a 26sec. course PB also gave him much to be proud of, and he is certainly not taking winning for granted.

‘I was happy to go faster than last year,’ the winner said.

‘I think the competition’s going to get tougher, and Sam, it’s his first second place – he’s improved a lot over the last year.

‘My ambition? Probably just to run every race as hard as I can and see what happens.

‘It was a good turnout today and hopefully Will’s back to do the other races, Richard and “Manno” maybe not the next one but after that... if the uni guys are back, they’ll be up there as well.

‘We’re so lucky in Guernsey to be able to do these races at the moment, and I doubt there’d be anywhere in the UK that could host a cross-country race from five-year-olds [in the junior race] to 79-year-olds running at the same time.

‘Touch wood, we’ll get the series in, and it’s a shame we won’t have Hampshire but my training won’t be any different.’

James, the reigning women’s champion and the Hampshire veterans’ title-holder, extended her long list of triumphs. She posted an 18-03 in leading from Woodhead, last season’s Hampshire U15 champion, who clocked 19-10, and a strong-running Alice Loveridge another 23sec. back.

This solid result followed from a two-week break coinciding with the end of her season.

While James termed her reintroduction to off-road running a ‘shock’, she is looking forward to contesting the whole series.

‘The field made a big difference – I was never by myself and there were always people to watch and try to chase down,’ she said.

‘The plan is to stick with the series. I prefer the road races but I find this quite good to build fitness and build strength.

‘Without Hampshire, I probably do not have a major cross-country target.

‘You always want to run well in Hampshire, so it’s a shame we are not going to have that, but we are lucky to have cross-country races here to be honest.’

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