Senior Men’s Race Report – EnergyVision Cross Cup, Diest, 11 February 2024

The small Belgium town of Diest was the setting for the latest round of the Belgium Cross Cup the last trip for the England Cross Country team this winter.
An incredibly mild day with no rain on the day but plenty in the final weeks build up to the race.

A very typical Belgium course awaited the men 6 laps of twisting winding terrain on sand, grass and mud with a few hills and a few jumps each lap to break the running rhythm.

A race time of 14.05pm and official distance of 9,070m awaited the men and a tight start ensured the usual mad dash and jockeying for the front places before the course narrowed and the pack settled down. When it did Jack Millar was already in 4th place with Jack Gray and Sam Mills just a short distance back in a busy pack. England 4th runner Alfie Manthorpe was missing as all flights back on Friday from the Armagh 5k road race on Thursday evening, were cancelled and he could not join the team on the journey to Belgium.

As the race unfolded it was clear that Jack Millar was performing well as he did in the London Cross Challenge when he got selected. Slowly he pulled away from 5th position to consolidate 4th but never feeling he was out of the race for 3rd with the potential for maybe a higher position as the race grew. Gray and Mills were battling together in around 7th and 8th place with Mills heading Gray early on for laps 1 & 2 but by the start of lap 3 Millar had a significant gap on them which looked greater due to the twisting course and not being able to view too much distance ahead or behind on many sections. Sake and Vanderpoorten of Belgium looked to be too far ahead of Millar but 3rd placed Grimard did not however as is normal with sticky mud it made it difficult to gain much ground. Over the middle laps the gap grew between Millar and Gray/Mills and towards the latter part of the race Gray drew away from the tiring Mills, still only 20 and having his first senior outing for England. As they entered the final lap Millar had around 30 seconds lead on Gray who had a further 15 seconds on Mills. Millar had been chasing the 3rd spot hard but looked pretty much resigned to 4th as the gap ahead was too much based on the running terrain although Millar narrowed it to 4 seconds at the finish line. Gray had pulled away from Mills who had to really dig deep against the stronger and older athletes around him but did so with the quality and courage we have come to expect from him.

The England team all ran well a great boost for Millar and consolidating his current form, a solid run from Gray and Mills considering the latter was still a junior in December and running with stronger athletes over this distance for the first time.

1 Nicolai Sake, Belgium 29:19
2 Marco Vanderpoorten Belgium 29:39
3 Guillaume Grimard, Belgium 29:48
4 Jack Millar, England 29:52
8 Jack Gray, England 30:22
12 Sam Mills, England 30:41