Gemma is steeling herself for Hyères

Gemma is steeling herself for Hyères
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Great Britain's Gemma Steel and Kate Avery will return to the SPAR European Cross Country Championships as the favourites for gold.

A year ago in Samokov they could not be separated on time - and there was almost a repeat of that sensational outcome as Gemma Steel showed her form on Saturday ahead of the defence of her SPAR European Cross Country title.

Steel, 30, confirmed her place in the British team with a third successive triumph at the Liverpool Cross Challenge, the official trials for the last major international athletics event of 2015 in Hyères on Sunday.

When she won gold in Bulgaria last December, she did so by the narrowest of margins as British teammate Kate Avery and her were both given 28:27 after a dramatic finale.

This time, there was just two seconds between them as Steel won in 27:31 from Avery (27:33) and Steph Twell (27:47) to once more show the strength and threat that Britain’s senior women will have as they bid for the team prize.

In pouring rain, Steel had to dig deep to secure this success but she has brilliant endurance on this cross country surface as she has proved so consistently over the years.

"It’s got rid of the rust as it was my first cross country race of the season," said Steel, speaking to British Athletics. "It’s given me such a big boost ahead of the Europeans. It would be nice to win a medal in France and keep my winning streak going.

"You can never underestimate the likes of Kate and Steph. I thought I had slipped up a bit on the final corner and it brought back memories of Samokov."

Steel, a golder, silver and bronze individual medallist at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships, also has three team golds - from 2011, 2013 and 2014.

Ross Millington, who was fifth in Samokov, won the men’s race in 30:09 from Dewi Griffiths (30:22) and Thomas Lancashire (30:25).

The junior women’s race once more demonstrated what a year it has been for Bobby Clay, the European junior 1500m champion, as she won in 14:42. She will now look for another medal in Hyères as she beat Harriet Knowles-Jones by four seconds.

Leffrinckoucke was the venue for the Cross de L’Acier on Sunday, a final test for members of the French team ahead of Hyères.

While Steel will perhaps be the favourite for the women's race at the championships, Clémence Calvin, who was named in the women's senior team, ran well in Leffrinckoucke where she was fifth (24:24)over 6.65km with winner Dera Dida (24:13) the first of four Ethiopians.

On the men's side it was El Hassane Ben Lkhainouch, who was the first Frenchman home in this European Athletics Cross Country Permit race. He finished 14th (30:56) - two places and two seconds in front of his teammate Romain Collenot over the 9.95km course - as Kenya’s Alfred Ngeno won in 30:06.

Cross de l'Acier in Leffrinckoucke a European Athletics Cross Country Permit Meeting.
Cross de l'Acier in Leffrinckoucke a European Athletics Cross Country Permit Meeting.

The European Athletics Cross Country Permit Meeting in Alcobendas on Sunday also proved a good occasion for another big hope in the Hyères women's race as Ireland's double European champion Fionnuala McCormack (29:17) was second in the 7.9km event as Ethiopian Linet Masai (28:41) triumphed.

Though McCormack has talked more about the Irish team's chances than her own individual hopes at the championships, she was 35 seconds in front of Spain's Trihas Gebre which is a pointer towards Hyères.

The men's race in Alcobendas was also won by an Ethiopian as Tamirat Tola (29:28) with Spain's Carlos Mayo (30:22) the first European home in fifth.

Belgium's Louise Carton maintained her superb run ahead of the under-23 race in Hyères with victory in the 6.25km CrossCup van West Vlaanderen in Roeselaare.

She won in 22:21 from Sweden's Sarah Lahti (22:30) and Belgium's Veerle Dejaeghere (22:38).

Belgian pair Isaac Kimeli (30:25) and Thomas de Bock (30:26) were in the mix in the men's 9.4km race, narrowly losing out to Kenya's Alex Kibet (30:23).