By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
FALMOUTH, MASS. (11-Aug) -- Kenyans Micah Kogo and Joyce Chepkirui won their second road race titles in eight days, breaking the tape first here at the 41st New Balance Falmouth Road Race. Under perfect sunny skies, the tandem continued their winning ways on the sometimes winding roads between Woods Hole and Falmouth Heights.
Kogo Earns Close Victory Over American True
In order to claim victory today, Kogo had to overcome a surprise challenged and dig deep in the final kilometers here along Vineyard Sound.
After the horn sounded in Woods Hole and 12,800 athletes made their way out of the quaint harbor side village in various waves, a ten-man pack formed that would dwindle down to five by the four mile mark. Joining Kogo --the 2007 race champion-- was fellow Kenyan Emmanuel Mutai and Americans Abdi Abdirahman, Ben True, and Ben Bruce.
Together the group would stay together up and down the rolling course until they neared the ten kilometer mark. With Bruce fading slightly, the quartet of Kogo, Mutai, Abdirahman, and True pushed on.
Noticing True alongside, Kogo was surprised to see an unfamiliar American sticking tough in the last mile. Admittedly, Kogo didn't know who True was despite his 13:11.59, 5000m track credentials.
"The white guy, I knew when he stayed the last kilometer, I knew it was going to be anybody's race," said Kogo. "I know some strong white guys like Ryan Hall and so many others. But today I didn't know this guy who was strong today. He stayed with us until the last kilometer."
After Abdirahman faded with less than a kilometer to go, it was down to Kogo, True, and Mutai. Kogo made his decisive move on the final, steep uphill that crests with little more than 600 meters remaining.
"I made my final break when I saw the last hill, then I knew when I finish this hill I have a little bit then the finish," said the experienced Kogo. In that break, he was able to gain a step on True and even more on Mutai, the London Marathon course record holder.
Sprinting down the final stretch under a large American flag, Kogo claimed the victory in 32:09.1. True was a step behind in 32:11.2.
With the same smile that showed last week when he won the TD Beach to Beacon 10-K, Kogo broke the tape and exclaimed his love for the area.
"I like running here because I love the people along the beach who are so welcoming," he said. "I want to thank everyone."
True was just as happy, becoming the highest placing American since 2008, when Meb Keflezighi finished second.
"Kogo jumped me cresting the last hill," he said. "But it was a good race."
When told of Kogo's awe in seeing a white man alongside him towards the end of the race, True laughed and said it was a compliment.
"I'm definitely improving every year and hopefully I'll be able to come back and win it," he said.
Mutai wound up third in 32:19.9, followed by Abdirahman in fourth, timing 32:28.4.
"I made a mistake on the two hills. The first I thought was the last so I went for broke and I broke and turned and then said "Ahhh!" admitted Abdirahman, talking about the reason why he faded in the final stretch. "That's OK though, I was happy with my performance."
Flagstaff, Ariz.'s Bruce rounded out the top five, timing 32:44.0.
Chepkirui Runs Away With Women's Title
In the women's contest, it was the Joyce Chepkirui show. Before even passing the mile mark and historic Nobska Lighthouse, Chepkirui and Kenyan compatriot Linet Masai had broken from the pack of about eight women.
The two would run together --Chepkirui always doing the leading duties with Masai a step behind-- ultimately gaining a 20 second advantage on the field by the third mile. In the chase pack behind, Britain's Gemma Steel and Burundi's Diane Nukuri-Johnson worked together trying to keep the Kenyans in sight.
"She didn't give us a chance really, she took off from the start," said Steel, 27, with a laugh.
Midway through the third mile, it appeared as if it would be an all African duel to the finish. Both Masai and Chepkirui looked focused on the task at hand, passing the ocean and sandy beaches without even the slightest look to the side.
Chepkirui's big break came as the pair approached the four mile mark. Within a matter of seconds, Masai went from on her shoulder to ten meters back.
"I am coming back from injury so my body is not great now. I am still struggling, not feeling well but I hope I will feel better soon," Masai told Race Results Weekly, explaining that her calf has been giving her trouble, forcing her to slow down.
With the loss of Masai, Chepkirui had the roads all to herself. For the remaining three miles, she would rule the pavement, her only challenge being the final hill a half mile from the finish which organizers have dubbed "Little Heartbreak."
"The last mile was very hard for me, because of the hill is very steep," said Chepkirui.
For Masai, the final miles would be even harder. Little by little the former IAAF World Champion over 10,000m fell back towards the waiting Steel and Nukuri-Johnson. What once was a 10-second gap between Masai and the chasers soon became 5 seconds; shortly after reaching the six mile mark, Masai was caught.
While Chepkirui broke the tape comfortably in front in 36:42.8, the battle was on for second. Storming down the final downhill, Steel turned on the jets to edge Masai by a meter, giving a pump of the fist as she crossed the line.
"I think it was my mental strength today to catch her," said Steel, who timed 37:05.8. "It's just a dream really to pull it out of the bag when it matters."
Masai wound up third in 37:06.5, with Nukuri-Johnson fourth in 37:15.2.
The show belonged to Chepkirui, though, who became the seventh Kenyan women to win the race since 2000.
"It feels very good to win again," said Chepkirui, who is based in Iten. Chepkirui's win is her second in eight days, as she was victorious at the TD Beach to Beacon 10K last Saturday.
Finishing in sixth as the top American was Alexi Pappas. The 23-year-old was spurred on by many of her Dartmouth College teammates and friends along the course, including NCAA champion Abbey D'Agostino and coach Mark Coogan.
On the eve of today's race, Coogan spoke with Pappas and told her to be tough and to expect the pain. That, combined with the advice American marathoner Deena Kastor gave her last week --to take in the crowd and use it as an advantage-- Pappas had the best race she could've imagined.
"It's just really amazing," she said. "It's been an amazing weekend and something I am really going to reflect on. I'm proud of it but I'm ready for more."
PHOTO: Micah Kogo winning the 2013 New Balance Falmouth Road Race (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)