PORT ELIZABETH, SOUTH AFRICA - MAY 07, The winner, Lebo Phalula leads during the SPAR Women's Challenge at Kings Beach on May 07, 2011 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa Photo by Reg Caldecott / Gallo Images

Johannesburg – Elroy Gelant and Lebo Phalula defended their senior men's and women's titles in fine style at the SA Cross Country Trials in Boksburg on Saturday.

Gelant gradually upped the pace in the men's 12 kilometres race and shifted gears on the last of six laps to shake off Kgosi Tsosane and Desmond Mokgobu, who finished second and third respectively.

“I felt in control the whole way and in the last kilometre I used my leg speed to break away,” Gelant said.

“I've been training hard, which helped me on the hills.”

Phalula took the women's 8km race by the scruff of the neck, tearing away on the first of four laps.

She won comfortably ahead of second-placed Mapaseka Makhanya, a middle distance specialist who is making the transition to longer distances.

Nolene Conrad, struggling to overcome an iron deficiency, collapsed at the finish line, after taking third place, but she recovered sufficiently and was able to stand without assistance.

“I'm not in good shape, because I'm still training, but I had hoped to do well here,” Phalula said.

“It was hot today, which made it tough, so I'm glad to have won.”

Four squads – senior men and women, and junior men and women – will be selected from the trials to compete at the Southern Region Cross Country Championships in Lesotho on March 3, where the team will be finalised for the World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, on March 24. – Sapa