While Ayalew Taye and Duncan Kibet will return to Cape Elizabeth to defend their respective TD Banknorth Beach to Beacon crowns Saturday, new champions will be crowned in the women’ s races.
Taye, the defending Maine men’ s champ, and overall champ Kibet will both be gunning for back-to-back titles when the starter’ s gun is fired at 8:05 a.m. at Crescent Beach State Park.
Reigning women’ s champ Luminita Talpos of Romania is competing on her country’ s Olympic team in the upcoming Beijing Games while three-time defending Maine women’ s winner Emily LeVan has moved to Vermont and will not compete.
There is no legitimate favorite in the Maine men’ s division, as a number of the state’ s top runners will be vying for the unofficial title of Maine’ s top road racer.
Taye, a sophomore at Georgetown University, will undoubtedly not give up his crown without a fight.
Among the challengers will be Eric Giddings of South Portland, Ben True of North Yarmouth, Donny Drake of Portland, Judson Cake of Bar Harbor, Matt Lane of Yarmouth, Ethan Hemphill of Freeport and Jon Wilson of Falmouth.
“That’ s going to be a real horse race,” race founder Joan Benoit Samuelson said earlier this week.
Cake is in top shape, and has been obliterating course records on the Maine road racing scene this year.
He’ s running away with the TradeWinds MarketPlace/Sub 5 race series, his most recent victory coming at the Tour du Lac 10-mile road race in Bucksport in June.
Hemphill has dominated the roads in southern Maine this summer, winning the L.L. Bean 10K on the Fourth of July in his hometown.
Along with Hemphill, Drake and Giddings are both former champs and cannot be counted out, along with Lane, who recently moved back to Yarmouth and is competing as a Maine resident for the first time.
Lane’ s the only competitor amongst the top runners in the Maine field who have broken the 30-minute barrier on the pristine, challenging 6.2-mile course from Crescent Beach to Fort Williams.
Wilson recently won the Clam Festival Classic 5-miler in Yarmouth.
On the women’ s side, Kristin Pierce-Barry of Scarborough is the clear favorite in the Maine division, according to Samuelson, with training partner Sheri McCarthy-Piers of Falmouth close behind.
Both athletes competed in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in April, with Piers finishing an impressive 16th.
However, Barry has been dominant in every race she has entered this summer, and clocked an impressive time of 35 minutes, 12 seconds at the L.L. Bean race.
The Beach to Beacon course record for Maine women of 34:56, set by Julia Kirkland in the inaugural race in 1998, could be in serious jeopardy from Barry, especially if she gets a nice cool morning to run.
The elite men’ s field is just as stocked as the contingent from Maine.
Ed Muge of Kenya and Terefe Maregu of Ethiopia will be among Kibet’ s chief challengers, along with 2006 champ Tom Nyariki of Kenya.
Maregu is currently the world’ s top ranked road racer by Running Times, and has victories at the Peachtree 10K and Utica Boilermaker 15K earlier this month, and had last weekend’ s Bix 7-miler in Iowa won, but mistakenly slowed his stride with about 100 meters to go, thinking he had crossed the finish line.
Muge, Kenya’ s national 10K champ, took advantage of Maregu’ s mistake to capture the Bix race in 32:41, and has been training hard at high altitudes in Kenya.
Kibet finished fourth at the Bix race, and has a great chance of a second straight Beach to Beacon victory.
On the women’ s side, the early favorite appears to be late entry Edith Masai of Kenya.
A 2004 Olympian, she won the women’ s title at the Bix 7-miler last weekend, becoming the oldest runner to ever emerge victorious at the Davenport, Iowa, race at the age of 41.
She’ ll be challenged by Lineth Chepkurui of Kenya, ranked sixth in the world, and a contingent of strong marathoners, including Andrea Pirtea of Romania, and 2004 U.S. Olympian Elva Dryer of New Mexico.
A total of 5,500 runners are signed up to compete in the race.