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Yves Sikubwabo bides his time, kicks for the win to defend U Sports XC title

Yves Sikubwabo defends his U Sports Cross-Country Championships title as Guelph, with two runners in the top-nine, win the men's team title on Sunday

Yves Sikubwabo
Yves Sikubwabo
Photo: Matt Cecill.

The 2016 national university cross-country champion defended his U Sports title on Sunday in Victoria.

Laval’s Yves Sikubwabo, who went undefeated this cross-country season, won the men’s 10K in 31:15 over Guelph’s Connor Black, who clocked in at 31:19. It was a battle between the 2017 Ontario champion and 2017 Quebec conference champion as Sikubwabo and Black were together until about 500m to go when the Rouge et Or senior twisted the screws and upped the pace.

RELATED: U Sports XC women’s 8K recap.

Western’s Ben Carson was third in 31:33. With two runners in the top-10, Black and Mark Patton, Guelph won the men’s team title regaining the crown from Laval, who won it at home in Quebec City in 2016. The Gryphons had a spread (difference between the top scorer and the fifth runner) of just 41 seconds to better Calgary and Laval. Guelph, which dominated U Sports being the men’s team champions every year from 2006-2014, scored 58 points taking into account the top-five runners.

“It was everything that I hoped it would be,” Black told Chris Kelsall (of Athletics Illustrated) for Canadian Running. “I was hoping to race well and I had a plan and stuck to it and I am pretty happy to help my team win this year.”

Calgary put two runners – Russell Pennock and Alex James in fourth and fifth – in the top-10 to win the Canada West title, which was awarded within Sunday’s race. Calgary scored 76 points to better their pre-race ranking by two spots. Laval too put two runners in the top-10 in Sikubwabo and Dany Racine.

“I am pleased with the win,” Guelph head coach Dave Scott-Thomas says. “Last year we had a young team and finished ninth. This was a great performance today. And of course we were prepared for the rain. That was a given.”

U Sports Cross-Country
Photo: Matt Cecill.

Braydon Clarke secured the Gryphons title with a 19th-place finish. Guelph finished ninth as a men’s team in 2016, a huge year-to-year improvement. Laval’s Jean-Simon Desgagnes was the rookie of the year in 17th.

U Sports Cross-Country
Photo: U Sports.

Mild to heavy rain, according to B.C. Athletics, fell ahead of the women’s 8K but stopped in time for the men’s 10K, which went off at 2 p.m. PST, an hour after the women started. Temperatures were around 9 C. Beacon Hill Park, the site of this year’s championships, had not hosted the national university cross-country championships since 2007 as the event returned to western Canada for the first time in 10 years.

Pre-race favourite Sikubwabo hung back in the pack for the early stages of the race, in 21st spot through the opening 2K. He moved through the field over the next 2K and was among the leaders at the 4K mark, which came at the end of the second lap. (Men raced five 2K laps of Beacon Hill Park.)

Calgary’s James led through 5K in 15:55 followed closely by at least a dozen runners as all were biding their time in wet west coast conditions. James appeared to be battling side stitches for much of the race but held it together to finish as a first-team All-Canadian.

Then, Sikubwabo and Connor Black broke free of the field and it was two-man race from 8K to the finish. Black put Sikubwabo under pressure in the late stages of the race but the defending champion would not be denied his second consecutive U Sports title. Black is in his fourth year of eligibility meaning he can compete again in 2018. Sunday was Sikubwabo’s final cross-country race for Laval.

“I wanted to run for the team, to help the team win,” Sikubwabo says. He’s expected the race the Houston Half-Marathon in January.

The Laval men were racing without Antoine Thibeault, who was expected to race on Sunday, as he withdrew from the U Sports Championships due to illness. Still, the Rouge et Or managed to snag bronze, to match the medal colour the women’s team won an hour earlier.

Top-30 results

1. Yves Sikubwabo Universite Laval 31:15
2. Connor Black University of Guelph 31:19
3. Ben Carson Western University 31:33
4. Russell Pennock University of Calgary 31:37
5. Alexander James University of Calgary 31:38
6. Dany Racine Universite Laval 31:41
7. Eric Wynands Queen’s University 31:43
8. Sergio Raez Villanueva McMaster University 31:44
9. Mark Patton University of Guelph 31:45
10. Angus Rawling St. Francis Xavier University 31:46
11. Shawn Master University of Windsor 31:49
12. Declan White Trinity Western University 31:51
13. Andrew Nebel University of Windsor 31:51
14. Stefan Daniel University of Calgary 31:52
15. Andrew Shepherd University of Guelph 31:57
16. Benjamin Workman University of Guelph 31:58
17. Jean-Simon Desgagnes Universite Laval 32:00
18 Joshua McGillivray McMaster University 32:00
19. Braydon Clarke University of Guelph 32:00
20. Max Turek McMaster University 32:01
21. Brandon Vail University of Victoria 32:02
22. Jeffrey Tweedle McMaster University 32:04
23. Adam Strueby University of Regina 32:04
24. Caleb De Jong Trinity Western University 32:04
25. Jonathan Favero McMaster University 32:05
26. Benjamin Weir University of Victoria 32:06
27. Eric Lutz University of Calgary 32:06
28. Alex Neuffer St. Francis Xavier University 32:09
29. Joe Kagumba University of Windsor 32:10
30. Ryan Grieco University of Calgary 32:11

Full results can be found at Race Day Timing. Team results can be found here.