HEREFORD Couriers grabbed the men’s team honours by just a single point when Croft Ambrey organised the second race in the Herefordshire League at Croft Castle.
The challenging course saw Couriers pip arch rivals Wye Valley Runners, while just four points separated the leading four teams in a keenly-fought women’s competition.
In the men’s race, Couriers’ Eliot Taylor and Wye Valley’s Luke Mason continued their battle from the previous league race with Wye Valley’s 46-year-old John Pullen tracking their every move.
Nothing separated the three contenders at the end of the first of three arduous laps, but Taylor decided to test the resolve of his Wye Valley opponents with a couple of surges on the long grassland climb leading up to Croft Ambrey Iron Age hill fort.
A similar tactical move on the final lap proved too much for his tiring rivals as he built a substantial lead to canter home with a commanding 40-second margin of victory.
Pullen maintained his form to overtake Mason and finish second.
Taylor was well supported in the winning Couriers team by Matt James (seventh), Luke James (eighth) and a strong run from veteran Mike Link (10th).
Mike Fawcett (ninth) and Alan Lewis (13th) backed the leading Wye Valley pairing.
Croft Ambrey again took third team place thanks to Stacey Morgan (fourth), Mark Lamonby (11th), Glyn Williams (17th) and Simon Norwood (20th).
Couriers and Wye Valley now share the lead in the overall competition.
Hereford and County’s Clara Evans led from start to finish to dominate the shorter women’s race to win by more than two minutes, improving her time over the same course last year by 90 seconds.
Ludlow Runners’ Claire Thomas made an impressive winter league debut, after a promising summer league display, finishing a clear second, while Hereford Triathlon Club’s Kylie Mansfield continued her improvement by winning a sprint finish to take third place.
Thomas had the added bonus of leading her Ludlow team to victory for the first time in many years thanks to the strong support of youngster Eilish Gilbert (10th) and Kerry Bason (11th).
First race winners Wye Valley finished just two points adrift with evergreen Jane Rowlands in fourth place, Becci Ansfield ninth and Nicky Childs 12th.
Croft Ambrey’s women were equal on 25 points thanks to Gemma Mallett (fifth) and Irina Dale (sixth), both making encouraging winter league debuts, and another improved run from Sam Harper in 14th.
Wye Valley were awarded second team place after finishing their complete team first and have extended their overall lead.
The third in the five-race series takes place at Fforest Fields near Hundred House on December 2.
Results: Herefordshire Cross-Country League Croft Castle: Men: 1 Eliot Taylor (Hereford Couriers) 49.30, 2 John Pullen (Wye Valley Runners) 50.10, 3 Luke Mason (WVR) 50.44, 4 Stacey Morgan (Croft Ambrey RC) 51.35, 5 Cliff Berry (Ledbury and District Harriers) 51.55, 6 Mike Pfeiffer (Builth and District RC) 52.02, 7 Matt James (HC) 52.10, 8 Luke James (HC) 52.13, 9 Mike Fawcett (WVR) 52.33, 10 Mike Link (HC) 53.17, 11 Mark Lamonby (CA RC) 53.41, 12 Richie Bamford (HC) 53.54, 13 Alan Lewis (WVR) 54.20, 14 Russell James (HC) 55.01, 15 Scott Kennedy (WVR) 56.14, 16 Max Suff (HC) 56.17, 17 Glyn Williams (CA RC) 56.40, 18 Adrian Taylor (Presteigne Pacers) 56.57, 19 Jonny Williams (Hereford Triathlon Club) 57.04, 20 Simon Norwood (CA RC) 57.10, 21 Dave George (CA RC) 57.27, 22 Neil Lewis (HC) 57.32, 23 Dave White (HTC) 57.46, 24 Dave Williams (HC) 58.06, 25 Dan Phillips (WVR) 58.25.
Team standings: 1 Hereford Couriers 25, 2 Wye Croft Runners 24, 3 Croft Ambrey RC 23, 4 Hereford Couriers ‘B’ 22, 5 Wye Valley Runners ‘B’ 21, 6 Hereford Triathlon Club 20, 7 Croft Ambrey RC ‘B’ 19, 8 Ludlow Runners 18, 9 Hereford Couriers ‘C’ 17, 10 Wye Valley Runners ‘C’ 16.
Croft Castle Women: 1 Clara Evans (Hereford and County AC) 32.28, 2 Claire Thomas (Ludlow Runners) 34.45, 3 Kylie Mansfield (Hereford Triathlon Club) 36.20, 4 Jane Rowlands (Wye Valley Runners) 36.22, 5 Gemma Mallett (Croft Ambrey RC) 36.39, 6 Irina Dale (CA RC) 37.26, 7 Celia Speake (Builth and District RC) 37.48, 8 Sarah Holton (HTC) 38.07, 9 Becci Ansfield (WVR) 38.58, 10 Eilish Gilbert (LR) 39.16, 11 Kerry Bason (LR) 39.39, 12 Nicky Childs (WVR) 39.58, 13 Sandrine Gorien (WVR) 40.00, 14 Samantha Harper (CARC) 40.05, 15 Joyce Warburton (HTC) 40.07, 16 Claire Hebblethwaite (HTC) 40.12, 17 Edelstyn (HTC) 40.17, 18 Jo Marriott (CA RC) 40.24, 19 Rita Tomkins (Presteigne Pacers) 40.37, 20 Lyndsay Turner (LR) 40.41, 21 Maria Miles (WVR) 40.49, 22 Gill Bamber (WVR) 40.56, 23 Bev Bishop (Hereford Couriers) 41.07, 24 Liza Austin (CA RC), 25 Heulwen Gilbert (LR) 41.45.
Team standings: 1 Ludlow Runners 20, 2 Wye Valley Runners 20, 3 Croft Ambrey RC 18, 4 Hereford Triathlon Club ‘B’ 17, 5 Wye Valley Runners ‘B’ 16, Hereford Triathlon Club ‘B’ 15, 7 Ludlow Runners ‘B’ 14, Wye Valley Runners ‘C’ 13, 9 Hay Hotfooters 12, 10 Presteigne Pacers 11.