Yet while Jenny James’ clear women’s victory proved no surprise, Priest had to be at the top of his game to dispatch Will Bodkin, the form man of 2020.
It was just over two years ago that Priest had glided over the same course to claim his first significant cross-country victory. He would go on to win the series.
Priest is already at the halfway marker of potentially repeating his 2018-19 title success, but if one athlete can stop him, it is Bodkin.
Bodkin scarcely competed during a lengthy dip starting in 2015, yet he has bounced back to enjoy a season like no other on the road and track, and this is his first appearance on the country since.
Bodkin pressured Priest from the first stride, despite being just over a week out of a 14-day isolation period, where he got by with some rigorous treadmill training.
Yet he had to settle for second best as Priest flew home in 21min. 58sec. for the four laps of nearly one mile.
Priest beat last year’s time by over a minute and gained an 11sec. margin on his proven pursuer, a result to be proud of given Bodkin’s otherwise unbeaten run over the longer distances in recent months.
‘I’m happy to win – everyone’s seen how strong he’s been this year,’ Priest said afterwards.
‘I knew he was going to be strong today so I was just trying to see how long I can stay with him and see if I can push on at the end. Thankfully, I managed to.’
But in a bumper field of 166 runners, several emerging challengers such as Sam Lesley and Thierry Le Cheminant also impressed endurance stalwart Priest.
‘Hopefully, we may have a couple more runners back for the next couple races,’ he added as the reigning series champion, Richard Friedrich, sits out following his Guernsey Marathon victory.
Lesley was fresh from a second-place finish in the season opener but 15-year-old triathlete Le Cheminant was the surprise package of the bunch, with all four still tightly packed as they scrambled up the first steep hill of the course, roughly 500m in.
By the lap point, the lead duo had found some space and passed in circa 5-15, although their positions remained interchangeable for some time.
But Priest’s bold break on the approach to the third lap point left Bodkin without answer. Lesley soon completed the ‘podium’ by dipping under 23min.
Le Cheminant slipped off the hot initial pace but still placed a fine fourth in 23-47, with another up-and-coming, albeit older, triathlete in Chris Norman taking fifth.
U17 Henry Lister ran a well-measured race to drop the chase group and finish on Norman’s heels.
Among the women, James took a controlled approach to her race and found herself boxed in early on, but she still bagged a convincing win.
The 2020 veterans’ Hampshire cross-country champion worked through the field to clock 25-17 as she enjoys a relaxed return to training following an end-of-season break.
‘I am definitely fitter and I’ve had a few pleasing training sessions since the first one, but it still feels hard,’ she said.
‘I think my fitness is improving all the time and since my break, training has been going well.’
Compared to the scene of just a year ago, the next three women to finish showed a marked change of the guard.
Alice Loveridge finished dead on the 27min. mark with a much-improved performance and within the next minute came two more up-and-coming runners in Nix Petit and Emma Etheredge.
They relegated the experienced Louise Perrio to fifth.
Over three laps, U15 Harry Hodgson came out top in 19-31 from Rupert Wilson, while Lottie Smith clocked 20-37 for women’s honours for that distance.
George Montgomery was the top runner overall for the two-lap race, posting 12-33, but was held to 20sec. by top girl and exciting track prospect Darcey Hodgson.
Although two races of the cross-country series still remain, action takes a detour onto the tarmac at 10am this coming Sunday for the opening event of Guernsey Athletics Club’s road series.
The race takes place over the traditional five-mile course, from L’Ancresse Lodge to North Beach.