Champions defeat record field on new Doyle Loop course

BOTH defending champions started their FNB Cross-Country League campaigns in winning fashion on Saturday as a record field embraced a new course.

Thierry Le Cheminant and Nat Whitty took the main honours on the tight and twisty Doyle Loop at L’Ancresse, where nearly 190 runners – the most in the history of the series – lined up, despite gloomy and mildly rainy conditions.

The course, devised by unsung Guernsey Athletics stalwart Danny Blake, combined rough and cambered grassy terrain with punchy climbs, including plenty of action in a network of narrow paths between the Doyle and Bunker Hill. Dan Hunter’s ‘disco corner’ provided musical motivation to tackle the uphill charge to the lap point.

Over a relatively short distance of 3.3 miles and with senior aces James Priest and Steve Dawes absent, the younger runners took it upon themselves to lead the race out.

At just 17, triathlon star Le Cheminant started as a firm favourite and did not disappoint, winning in 19min. 8sec.

But fellow U20 Jack Le Tissier gave him a real push for the first of three laps.

Eventually the reigning champion found a gap as his chaser settled into second, while fellow teenager and 800m star Gian-Luca Robilliard appeared to have breathing room in third.

However, veteran Pete Amy’s experience and stamina paid off on the final lap – he picked up a couple of placings to steal second in 19-34. Le Tissier completed the podium in 19-49 but only 3sec. clear of a rallying Robilliard.

‘I felt really good running, especially since it was my first hard run since the Granite Man sprint [in early September] and I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I managed to flow back into the cross-country style,’ the winner said.

‘I really enjoyed the new course. I like the hills and the technical areas so found that it suited me quite well.’

The first race over the Doyle Loop drew a record FNB Cross-Country League entry of nearly 190 runners. (Picture by Andrew Le Poidevin, 31446449)

The improving Mark Jeffreys had a very solid run for fifth overall and to become the final man under the 20min. barrier.

The women’s race looked set to provide an intriguing duel – how would in-form Whitty fare against Guernsey 5,000m record holder Sarah Roe (nee Mercier)?

The answer was rather well. Whitty made an early advantage on her rival, who was racing for the first time since marrying Commonwealth Games cyclist James Roe in August, and maintained it for the duration.

Roe had gone through the lap point just behind a strong-starting Nix Petit, but she managed to build a steady advantage over the next two circuits.

The result was that Whitty took women’s honours in 21-05, followed by Roe (21-42) and Petit (22-23).

‘I love racing a new course – you can go into it with no fear of what’s coming up,’ Whitty said after also placing 15th overall.

‘I didn’t get a great start and ended up quite a way off, with a lot of work to do. I tried to work my way up slowly and was pleased to keep picking people off.

‘I’m happy to take the women’s win, but I still have a lot to improve on.

‘It was a tough and technical course, but I think it’s great to get some new courses in the mix.’

U15 Charlie Hynes won the two-lap option for younger juniors, having clocked 13-26, with first-year U17 Darcey Hodgson taking girls’ honours in 14-58.

For many athletes across the age groups, the Hampshire Cross-Country Championships will form the pinnacle of the season.

Both Whitty and Le Cheminant have their eyes on the championships, to be held at Fairthorne Manor in the Southampton Countryside on 7 January 2023.

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