Triumphant Spaniards clinch gold in the mixed relay in Tilburg

Solange Pereira winning the mixed relay for Spain at the Tilburg 2018 SPAR European Cross Country Championships
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Solange Pereira anchored Spain to victory in the mixed relay at the Tilburg 2018 SPAR European Cross Country Championships

Solange Pereira showed her fine sprinting ability to lead Spain to gold in the mixed relay, the finale of a brilliant SPAR European Cross County Championships in Tilburg.

France had led on all three of the changeovers over the 5.8km course, leaving Johanna Geyer-Carles to take the armband from four-time European 3000m steeplechase champion Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad in pursuit of the title.

She was four metres ahead of Pereira but the Spanish runner, who has a 4:06.39, was always within touching distance and she moved ahead in the latter stages of the lap to bring the team home.

Spain won in 16:10 from France in 16:12 with a dramatic and surprise bronze for Belarus in 16:21 ahead of Great Britain, fourth in 16:24. Great Britain, the reigning champions, had been third on the second and third changeovers but Belarusian Volha Nemahai never gave up chasing Jessica Judd.

And with the finish line just 50 metres away, Nemahai went past the Brit to secure third spot and just the country's second medal in championship history.

“We didn’t tell anybody but we really planned on getting a medal here. I was listening to my coach and just running,” said Nemahai.

But the plaudits went to the Spanish quartet whose team featured three of the medallists from their bronze medal-winning team last year. Pereira said: “I am so excited right now, I cannot even believe it. We are European champions.”

It is the second year of this mixed relay, with men on the first and third legs and women on the second and fourth. Alexis Miellet took over for France, leading at the changeover from Spain’s Saul Ordonez and Jensen.

Renelle Lamote maintained France’s lead from Esther Guerrero with Great Britain moving into third after a fine leg from Alexandra Bell.

She handed on to Phil Sesemann with the nation in the bronze medal spot behind the French and Spanish.

On the third leg, Mekhissi-Benabbad looked smooth as Victor Ruiz tailed him and though Sesemann had a bad slip, he quickly recovered and at the final change the order was still France, Spain and Britain.

It could not have been closer but Pereira in the end had too much and the title was Spain's.