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Preview: 6 Storylines For The Falmouth Road Race

American Molly Huddle has a chance to earn a place on the podium in Sunday’s famed race on Cape Cod.

American Molly Huddle has a chance to earn a place on the podium in Sunday’s famed race on Cape Cod.

(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

In advance of Sunday’s New Balance Falmouth Road Race, Race Results Weekly breaks down five storylines going into the annual summer showcase from Woods Hole to Falmouth Heights on Cape Cod. In its 42nd year, the New Balance Falmouth Road Race saw 10,988 finishers in 2013; course records stand at 31:08 for men (Gilbert Okari, 2004) and 35:02 for women (Lornah Kiplagat, 2000).

Huddle Eyes Podium

In the past 20 years, only three American women have finished first at the Falmouth Road Race: Magdalena Lewy Boulet in 2011, Jen Rhines in 2003 and Laura Mykytok in 1994. The last time a New England-based woman claimed the laurel wreath was 1992, when Lynn Jennings timed 36:13. Huddle, who lives and trains in Providence, R.I., is coming off a string of personal best performances, including wins at the Oakley Mini 10K (31:37) and at the Quad-City Times Bix 7 Miler (36:14). Huddle bettered her own American 5000m record on the track in Monaco last month, running 14:42.64. Able to transition easily from the track to the roads, Huddle can keep the winner’s crown in New England.

Nike Oregon Project teammates Jordan Hasay and Tara Erdmann will join Huddle as the leading American women entered. Hasay finished fourth at the TD Beach to Beacon 10K, and told Race Results Weekly she was eagerly awaiting the Falmouth Road Race.

Steel, Wacera And Saina Favored In Women’s Race

Along with Huddle, Great Britain’s Gemma Steel and Kenya’s Mary Wacera and Betsy Saina come in as the favorites to break the tape first in Falmouth Heights. Steel was runner-up to Joyce Chepkirui last year, and is coming off a thrilling victory at the Beach to Beacon 10K. Having been training in Portland, Maine, for a majority of the last two weeks, Steel travels the 140 miles south to Cape Cod with added confidence.

Wacera, 25, has left her mark on the road racing scene in 2014, breaking through thanks to new-found racing opportunities. Prior to placing third at the Healthy Kidney 10K in New York City, Wacera told Race Results Weekly she looked at 2014 as a blessing.

“Last year I didn’t have access to good races. So maybe I was in shape but the races I got I couldn’t perform. They were not faster, not many fast competitors,” she recalled. “When I went to the World’s Best [10K, which she won in February], it changed a lot of things because that’s the race where I was selected to run the World Half.”

RELATED: McNamara, Uceny Headline Falmouth Mile Field

At the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships, Wacera took silver. Since then, she’s won the Lilac Bloomsday Run 12K and Utica Boilermaker 15K on American soil.

Saina, a 26-year-old graduate of Iowa State, has run 31:10 for 10K on the roads this year en route to placing second at the B.A.A. 10K.

Defending Champ Kogo, World Leader Sambu Lead Kenyan Men

Micah Kogo, last year’s winner, will look to claim Kenya’s 20th men’s title on the roads between Woods Hole and Falmouth Heights. Having won both in 2013 and 2007, Kogo brings vast experience to the table. The 28-year-old Olympic bronze medalist at 10,000m was brimming with confidence before finishing fifth at the Beach to Beacon 10K on Aug. 3, telling Race Results Weekly he has been working on his speed recently. That could come in handy if it’s a close race descending the final hill.

Joining Kogo from Kenya is Stephen Sambu, the Tucson, Ariz., based 26-year-old. Red hot on the roads this year, Sambu holds the world lead for 10K, a 27:25 mark set while winning the B.A.A. 10K in June. Sambu has shown tremendous range in 2014, winning events at 10K (B.A.A. 10K and UAE Healthy Kidney 10K in 27:39), 10 miles (Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in 45:29), and half marathon (Carlsbad Half Marathon in 62:13). The rolling, 7-mile course along Nantucket Sound shouldn’t be a problem for the James Li-coached athlete.

Emmanuel Bett, one place and four seconds behind Kogo at Beach to Beacon, is entered as well.

RELATED: 2013 Falmouth Road Race Recap

Post-Collegiate Showcase

Glancing at the starting lists, one will notice a very large number of recent NCAA student-athletes mixing it up on the roads of Cape Cod. Leading the charge is Texas Tech alum Kennedy Kithuka, winner of the 2012 NCAA Cross Country Championship and 2013 NCAA Indoor 5000m title.

Kithuka hasn’t raced since the middle of June, when he placed fourth and eighth at the NCAA Outdoor Championships 10,000m and 5000m, respectively. According to statistics website, the 25-year-old has never raced on the roads before.

Andrew Colley, seventh at the 2013 NCAA Cross Country Championships while at North Carolina State, and Indiana University alum Zach Mayhew will also lace up the road racing flats.

Making her professional debut will be former William & Mary standout Elaina Balouris, who will don the Boston Athletic Association kit for the first time. In July she joined the B.A.A.’s High Performance team, coached by Terrence Mahon.

New Zealand’s Laura Nagel, a member of last year’s Providence College squad that claimed top team honors at the NCAA Cross Country championships, is also entered.

Speaking of the NCAA ranks, former 10,000m American record holder Chris Solinsky announced last week that he has accepted the assistant coach position at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He’ll be racing as well.

Olympic Marathoners Return

Abdi Abdirahman and Meb Keflezighi are regulars on the roads of Falmouth. Twelve months ago, Abdirahman stuck with leaders Micah Kogo, Ben True and Emmanuel Mutai through 10K before ultimately finishing fourth in 32:28.4. The “Black Cactus” also was fifth in 2011 (32:43), though he hasn’t finished a competitive race this year since placing 16th at April’s Boston Marathon in 2:16:06. (Abdirahman was given a time of 54:33 at the AJC Peachtree Road Race on July 4, more than 25 minutes behind winner Christo Landry, though it is unclear if he raced the event or simply used it as a training run).

The New Balance Falmouth Road Race will be Keflezighi’s final contest before transitioning into preparation mode for the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon on Nov. 2. Battling a nagging hamstring injury in recent weeks, Keflezighi took 13th at the Beach to Beacon 10K in 29:59. Last week, the 2014 Boston Marathon champion and wife Yordanos Asgedom were honorable guests of President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington, D.C.

RELATED: Meb Keflezighi To Run Falmouth Road Race