AFTER a four-year interlude Leeds City once again topped the podium at the Start Fitness-supported Northern Athletics 12-Stage Road Relay Championships held once again at Birkenhead Park while Rotherham Harriers denied Leeds City a winning double in the closing stages of the Women's Six-Stage contest. (by Bill McGuirk) MEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP (4x8k legs, 8x4k legs) After three hours-plus Leeds’ final runner, Michael Burrett came home to warm applause with a cushion of close to five-and-a-half minutes, one of the biggest winning margins ever recorded in recent times. With last year's champions Lincoln Wellington absent this time round, it was still an impressive performance by the Yorkshire outfit as Ossama Meslek (23min 06sec) put down the cornerstone for Leeds' first success since 2015 despite being outsprinted by Holmfirth's Mark Buckingham (23:03) and Lewis Moses (Darlington, 23:06) at the conclusion of the first leg. However, Leeds were quickly to the fore on leg two, the first of the short stages, as London Paralympian Wondiye Indelbu moved them into first place, a position they would not give way throughout the rest of the contest. City of Sheffield and Dearne moved up from fourth to second thanks to Alfie Manthorpe's efforts while Liverpool (Daniel Preston) moved into a medal position for the first time. Bolton's Jonathan Kay was the fastest on stage two - 11:17, second fastest overall - skimming through the field to 24th place after taking over in 48th spot. Leeds' advantage extended to 37 seconds on stage three thanks to Gordon Benson whose 23:17 was the fastest of the stage. City of Sheffield (Jonathan Shields) and Liverpool (Daniel Devine) were still in second and third place respectively. Ben Douglas continued to extend Leeds' lead on leg four with Liverpool (Max Brame) moving ahead of City of Sheffield (Ryan Griffiths) as Morpeth's James Young posted the fastest stage time (11:38). Next up for Leeds was Northern Cross-Country champion Emile Cairess and it was no surprise that he came to the changeover area over two minutes clear of Tommy Horton (City of Sheffield) with Carl Avery, who finished runner-up behind Cairess at Pontefract, moving Morpeth into a medal position for the first time. Cairess' figures for the 8k was an impressive 22:46 and he was the only athlete on view to post a time of sub 23 minutes. Joe Townsend (Leeds City) kept the pressure up by adding more daylight at the half-way stage of proceedings between himself and Julian Slater (City of Sheffield) and Morpeth's Philip Winkler as Chris Livesey, with the fastest stage time (11:42) brought Salford into the top six for the first time after a cautious start which saw them languish over a minute behind the leaders in 14th place at the first changeover. Going into the second half of the contest City of Sheffield's Iraitz Arrospide cut back slightly into Leeds' advantage with the fastest stage time (23:27) as Liverpool (Alistair Rutherford) moved ahead of Morpeth (Adrian Whitwam) into third place with Karl Darcy moving Salford up to fifth. On stage eight Liverpool's Thomas Rogerson closed a further two seconds on Joshua Woodcock-Shaw (Leeds) to move into second place as City of Sheffield (John Bailey Rice) were still in a medal position though just 25 seconds ahead of Salford (Marc Brown, with the fastest stage time of 11:41) as Morpeth (Taylor Glover) slipped back to fifth. However, on stage nine Leeds corrected the slight 'stagger' as Adrian Holliday produced the fastest stage time (11:54) to give his team a lead of over three minutes. Liverpool (James Wootton) continued in second place exactly a minute ahead of third-placed City of Sheffield (James Gray) as Robert Smyk kept Salford in touch in fourth spot. On stage 10 it was another fastest stage time by Leeds this time by John Ashcroft (11:22) as Cameron Cass regained second place for City of Sheffield pushing Liverpool back into third as Salford (Gary Priestley) moved up to within 10 seconds of a medal position. On the penultimate leg Leeds had Philip Sesemann post the fastest time (10:54) as City of Sheffield (Matthew Fuller) consolidated second place with Salford, who finished runners-up last year, moving into a medal position for the first time thanks to Davis Rigby's efforts. Liverpool were still in fourth place with Morpeth in fifth position. On the final stage it was a comfortable run for evergreen Michael Burrett who brought Leeds home ahead of City of Sheffield (Ahmed Farah) and Salford (Bruno Lima) with Jordan Scott bringing Morpeth ahead of an injury hit Richard Burney (Liverpool) in the final strides with both clubs being credited with the same time. Fastest on the course was Preston's Daniel Bebbington (11:21). WOMEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP (2x8k legs, 4x4k legs) It was always going to be a battle between Yorkshire 'big guns' Leeds City and Rotherham who had the top two placings in the previous three champinships with the score being two wins to Leeds and one to Rotherham and such is the rivalry between the two outfits the result went right to the wire with the result only unfolding on the final leg. Blackburn, thanks to Jessica Judd, were clear leaders on the opening long stage posting the fastest overall time of the day of 25:43 - the only sub 26 minute athlete on view - as Bronwen Owen brought Leeds, the defending champions, into the changeover in second place ahead of Rotherham's Samantha Hughes. Just as in the men's event, Leeds moved into the lead on stage two thanks to Jennifer Walsh and they were to keep pole position until the final leg. Rotherham were in second place (Natasha Haswell) though around a minute adrift with Blackburn (Joanne Nelson) slipping back to third. Liverpool, Pembroke and Sefton's Tiffany Penfold was the stage's quickest posting a time of 12:54 which equated to the fastest overall and the only sub 13 minutes short stage time of the day. On stage three Rotherham's Sophie Cowper, with the fastest time of 13:36 cut into Harriet Buswell's Leeds' advantage by 13 seconds as Leah Peploe moved into third place with Blackburn, who eventually were without a sixth runner, slipping out of contention. Leeds were back on song on stage four thanks to Claire Duck's fastest stage effort of 26:21 as Leigh (Lauren Hayes) moved ahead of Rotherham (Jenny Blizard) which left Leeds with a cushion of over a minute-and-a-half. However, things changed dramatically on the penultimate stage as Lori Handlebury, with the fastest stage time of 13:15 for Rotherham moved closer to Leeds (Leila Armoush, 13:56) with Leigh (Abigail Howarth, 13:14) now back in third place. Going into the final leg Leeds' advantage had been cut to just over a minute however, that didn't stop Rotherham's Nicola Devine setting off at a brisk pace in pursuit of Amicia Lee. Going into the final kilometre Devine managed to ease ahead and, with the supporters roaring her home, came across the finish line 29 seconds clear which was a remarkable turnabout after a contest lasting nearly two hours. JUNIOR RACES (all 5k) The junior races are starting to attract decent size fields now with over 170 contesting the four races on the programme which saw competitors run over two laps of Birkenhead Park. In the under-17 men's championship Rossendale's Matthew Mackay, bronze medalist in the Northern Cross-Country Championship, was lying in third place at the completion of the first circuit but moved confidently into the lead early on the second lap before being chased all the way to the line by Preston's Ben Preddy with just two seconds separating the duo at the line, Mackay posting a winning time of 15min 16secs. Warrington's Joseph Buckley completed the podium placings a further six seconds adrift. Preddy was quickly called back to the podium after leading Preston to team honours together with Matthew Fazakerley (4th) and ninth-placed Liam Blackwell who finished with 15 points ahead of Trafford and Warrington who both totalled 34 points with Trafford claiming the runners-up awards on countback. The under-17 women's race had just 20 competitors with victory going to Rotherham's Kelva Rennocks in 18:14. Gateshead's Chloe Wellings came through from third place at the start of the second lap to claim the silver medal with Preston's Darcey Lonsdale completing the one-two-three. Only two teams closed in with victory going to Leigh Harriers who totalled 31 points led home by sixth-placed Rebecca Pollitt. Olivia Anderson (11th) and Annabelle Sharrock (14th) were Leigh's other scorers. Preston finished runners-up with 35 points. There were 58 finishers in the under-15 boys championship with victory going to Kendal's Fraser Sproul in 16:07 who crossed the line just two seconds ahead of Trafford's Jack McNichol with Vale Royal's Jack Wilson another two seconds adrift in third place. Sproul, the Inter-Counties Cross-Country silver medalist, led Kendal to a comfortable team victory totalling 27 points with Ollie Sanders (17th) and Daniel Sanderson (19th) completing the team scorers. Derby, with 54 points, finished in second place with Wirral in third on 59 points. The under-15 girls championship had 51 finishers with Wirrall's Ellen Kearney celebrating a comfortable victory in 18:16 which was just two seconds slower than the winner of the under- 17 contest! Lucy Dixon (Horwich) finished in silver medal position with Olesia Winder (Levan Valley) claiming the bronze award.. Despite Kearney's victory the team race was won by Preston with Grace Brown (5th), Imogen Blackwell (7th) and Scarlett Sutton (11th) their scorers with a total of 23 points. Wirral finished in second place (33 points) and Preston third with 55 points. **Another successful Northern Athletics Road Relay Championships would not have been possible without the support of sponsors Start Fitness, Graeme Fecitt (Sportsoft), Fox Audio, Birkenhead Sixth Form College, Priority One Medical, Neston Air Cadets, Merseyside AA and athletics clubs and, of course, to championship secretary Ken Smith and his happy band of officials who stood their ground on a long day, a huge thank you for your sterling and valuable efforts.