Swansea Harriers’ men and Leeds City’s women aim to retain their titles, however, a number of clubs can take ERRA National Road Relays glory on Saturday (April 14).
The form guide for the men’s 12-stage event and women’s 6-stage at Sutton Park is a little patchy this year, with the southern relays last month having been cancelled due to the weather.
Swansea will be without at least four of their first-choice team due to the injury of Dewi Griffiths, last year’s fastest long-leg runner, and Jonny Hopkins, Josh Griffiths and triathlete Liam Lloyd being at the Commonwealth Games.
Team manager George Edwards admitted they would be hit hard by the omissions. However, given they won last year’s race by almost five minutes they could still be in with a chance.
Edwards said: “If we don’t lose anyone else it’s a good team. But you look at someone like Dewi, fastest leg last year, and he’s a hard man to replace.”
Bristol & West, who won the Midland relay, could well complete the logical progression after third in 2016 and second last year.
Despite an injury doubt over Will Christofi, who clocked the fastest short stage at the Midlands, team manager Mike Down said: “I think we’ve got a better team than last year, but I think we’ll do very well to beat Tonbridge, who I would think must be the favourites.”
Tonbridge, led by fifth-placed Chris Olley, emphatically won the nine-to-score English National cross-country event in February and look set to improve on their sixth from last year.
Lincoln Wellington believe they have a stronger outfit than the one which won the Northern title, last month with Joe Wilkinson and Tom Straw coming into the team for them.
Three of the squad have just come down from altitude at Font Romeu, including London Marathon bound Aaron Scott, and they are missing only Lucian Allison from a full-strength squad.
Kent AC, spearheaded by recent BUCS cross country winner Alex Yee, could also challenge, while Liverpool Harriers, Notts, Salford and Highgate Harriers will be in the mix.
Leeds, led by Emma Clayton, Susan Partridge, had a three-minute winning margin last year in the women’s 6-stage and also recently won the Northern title, where Claira Duck, who ran the fastest short leg of the day – but will face tough opposition.
Cambridge & Coleridge, fourth last year, could be in the mix with in-form Charlotte Christensen, who was third in the Southern cross, coming into the team.
They can now call upon Julia Paternain, the recent Schools International winner. However, Vicky Knight misses out. “It’s a good team that could bring home a medal,” said team manager Mark Vile.
Sale Harriers, led by Georgia Taylor-Brown, beat C&C into second at the National cross this year. Birchfield Harriers were big winners at the Midland’s last month and look set to improve on their 11th from last year.
Swansea were second last year, but are struggling to get a team out, with Eli Kirk and Caryl Jones on Commonwealth duty and Verity Ockenden having recently had a bike injury.
Bristol & West, fifth last year, also played down their chances, while Aldershot, Farnham & District are below-par and last year’s bronze medallists, Winchester & District, aren’t entered.
Also in the running for medals should be Rotherham Harriers and Salford.
After controversy last year over Welsh team Swansea’s victory, the organisers have decided to award medals to the first three teams overall and first three English teams.
Four 5km races for under-15 and under-17 males and females will also be staged, with prizes awarded for individuals and teams.
11am – Under-17 men’s 5km
11.05am – Under-17 women’s 5km
11.15am – Under-15 boys’ 5km
11.20am – Under-15 girls’ 5km
12 noon – Senior men (6×5.38 miles; 6×3.16 miles)
12.20pm – Senior women (2×5.38 miles; 4×3.16 miles)