PAUL Fernandez expects a tough task to defend his Oxford Mail Cross Country League title when the series gets under way at Ascott-under-Wychwood on Sunday.
The 38-year-old Abingdon Ambler and England ultra distance international has had a fine 2012, culminating in his Abingdon Marathon victory.
Last weekend, he completed a local double by winning Saturday’s Abingdon Parkrun and Sunday’s Ascott-under-Wychwood Charity 10K.
But despite his good form, Fernandez is not overly confident of retaining the Oxford Mail title he won in 2011-12.
“I plan to try, but I am not sure how successful I will be,” said Fernandez.
“There are lots of new and young runners coming through.”
One likely challenger to Fernandez’s crown is new Oxford City signing David Bruce.
The former Oxford University student won last month’s Oxford Half Marathon and has a decent off-road pedigree.
Last year he won the Varsity cross country match on Wimbledon Common.
Witney Road Runner Elysia Ridley, however, will not be defending her title.
The 25-year-old was the leading lady during the 2011-12 season, but the army officer now has her sights on a different sporting challenge.
She said: “Unfortunately I won’t be defending my title this year as I’m going to be out in Austria and France, racing in biathlon for the army team.
“My aim is to make the world champs in February.”
Biathlon is a Winter Olympics event combining ski-ing and shooting.
The leading Oxfordshire ladies challenger could therefore be new Headington Road Runners member Jessica Leitch.
Woodstock’s Steve Naylor, men’s champion in 2010-11, is unlikely to complete the series.
Naylor will run in the league for his second-claim club Woodstock Harriers.
But he said: “Having won the first Chiltern League race, I am going to try and attempt a few more of those this season where possible.
“I am away for the national cross country relays this weekend, so can’t do Ascott.”
Naylor could only confirm he would race in round three, which doubles up as the Oxfordshire Championships, and round five.
Another potential contender, Oxford City’s Darrell Bellinger, is focusing on defending his Chiltern League Senior Men’s Division 1 title, so there is every chance of a new champion.
Bellinger said: “I may do one or two of the Oxford Mail league races, just to use as a training run.”
November 4: Ascott-under-Wychwood. December 2: Culham. January 6: Horspath (inc Oxon champs). February 3: Swindon. March 3: tbc.