Monicah Ngige

Monicah Ngige of Kenya, the fastest female runner at 32:05, crosses the finish line during the 40th Allstate Sugar Bowl Crescent City Classic on Saturday in New Orleans. More than 20,000 participants ran, jogged, walked or rolled 6.2 miles from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to City Park. Jake Robertson of New Zealand won with an unofficial time of 27:28.

Even without the potential for a three-peat in the men’s open division, Saturday’s 41st Crescent City Classic men’s and women’s open division races promise to provide plenty of intrigue for local running enthusiasts and those closely watching one of the nation’s premier 10-kilometer races.

According to Andrew Lilly, the Crescent City Classic elite athlete coordinator, the women’s field is as deep as the event has seen in years, headlined by last year’s winner, Monicah Ngige, who has finished fourth or better in each of the past four annual races.

Ngige, who won last year in 32:05, is the race’s clear favorite as the only elite woman runner in the world ranked in the top 20 in the world on the road in the 5K, 10K and the half-marathon. The 25-year-old Kenyan is also coming off two road victories this year in the BAA 5K in Boston and the Cooper River Bridge Run 10K in Charleston, S.C.

“I would be shocked if she doesn’t win this race,” Lilly said. “Depending on how the wind conditions are, I think she could run pretty fast. We haven’t had a fast women’s race in a while. I wouldn’t be shocked if she finished in under 31:30.”

Kenya's Monicah Ngige surges ahead to win women's side of Crescent City Classic

For perspective, in the event’s 41-year history, only nine women have broken that mark, and it would shatter the record on the race’s current course layout of 31:57, set in 2016 by Ethiopia’s Buze Diriba. The women’s record in the Crescent City Classic (30:27) was set in 2005 by Kenya’s Isabella Ochichi.

Ngige’s biggest challenger Saturday could come from the race's second-youngest elite racer, male or female, in 20-year-old Celliphine Chespol. The fellow Kenyan has run the second-fastest women’s time in the steeplechase in world history (8:58). Lilly added that countrywomen Iveen Chepkemoi and Vicoty Chepngeno also could pose a challenge for Ngige’s repeat bid.

Lilly also expects defending men’s and women’s masters champions Jen Rhines and Louisiana native Kevin Castille to snag another title this year.

The men’s elite division, though, is wide-open with the absence of two-time defending champion Jake Robertson, who set a course record a year ago with his time of 27:28 that won by 46 seconds and came just 17 seconds from tying the event record.

Robertson, the New Zealander whose Crescent City Classic victory in 2017 broke a 20-year streak of Kenyan winners in the male division, has battled injuries and is focused on pursuing personal goals in the marathon this summer. Lilly said event coordinators had hoped to get commitments from both Jake and his twin brother, Zane, who both moved to Kenya when they were 18 to train and pursue professional running careers.

Crescent City Classic: New Zealand’s Jake Robertson repeats ... and comes close to a record

Without any of the top-five men’s finishers from a year ago, there is still a handful of racers who have proven they can dip below 28 minutes for a 10K. The two favorites, though, are well-decorated.

Kenyan 26-year-old Jairus Birech recently debuted in under 60 minutes in the half-marathon and is one of only 12 men to break eight minutes in the steeplechase, while 34-year-old countryman Silas Kipruto broke 28 minutes at the Cooper River Bridge 10K, ran a 27:32 10K on a track and finished as the Crescent City Classic runner-up in 2016.

American 27-year-old Parker Stinson also could prove to challenge towards the top and take advantage of an incentive for American runners. Along with the prize money of $6,000 for first place, $4,000 for second, $2,500 for third, $1,500 for fourth and $1,000 for fifth, the top American man and woman each receive an additional $1,000. Should they finish in the top five of their division, their winnings would be doubled.

Follow Nathan Brown on Twitter, @nbrownadvocate.