ADAM Hickey’s biggest win of his senior career has re-affirmed his coach’s belief that he is ready to challenge for the country’s most prized cross-country titles.

Hickey won the fourth round of the British Cross Challenge in Cardiff in dominant fashion, running away from fellow Great Britain internationals Dewi Griffiths and Johnny Hay to win by a comfortable 13 seconds.

The Southend AC athlete, 25, described it as “the best I have ever felt in a senior race and a massive confidence boost”.

And his coach, Eamonn Martin, said Hickey is now at a level where he can join him on the illustrious list of winners of the English Cross-Country Championships.

“This win takes him up another step now,” said Martin, who won the national title in 1984 and 1992. “It’s one thing to believe you can win a race, but it’s another actually doing it.

“I have got great belief in Adam and I really think he can go on and win the nationals and the intercounties.

“He’s been chipping away, improving, improving, improving. And with that, his confidence has increased and I can see that in him. Adam is a pretty unassuming guy but I can see that confidence in him now.

“All the time you are narrowing down the people that can beat him. Hay was second in Liverpool (at the trials for the European Cross-Country Championships) and he has beaten him now. It’s just Andy Vernon (Britain’s number one cross-country runner) who he hasn’t beaten.”

And interestingly for Hickey, and all the other top cross-country runners, it is believed that Vernon will not be contesting the national championships, instead focusing on racing on the indoor circuit, leaving the national cross wide open.

The race in Cardiff was Hickey’s third in as many weeks after competitions in Northern Ireland and Scotland, the latter of which saw him compete for Great Britain in the Great Edinburgh Cross.

Instead of feeling jaded by racing three weekends in a row, Martin was convinced Hickey would feel stronger each week and told his pupil Cardiff was his time to “put a marker down”.

“We talked about winning the race in Cardiff,” said Martin. “A lot of people these days say ‘I don’t want to race two or three weeks in a row’, but I told him, ‘I did it and it will make you physically and mentally stronger’.

“I knew the third race would be his strongest and he could win it.”

Martin, Britain’s last winner of the London Marathon, now has four weeks to fine-tune Hickey for the English Cross-Country Championships in Nottingham.

“It’s my job to move his training up to another level now between now and the nationals,” said Martin.

“I’m pretty excited because we’re going to these big races like the nationals and intercounties with Adam having a genuine chance of winning and he has to believe that.

“If he does believe it then they could be his.”

Hickey himself added: “It is a massive confidence boost going into the nationals. It will be good to be up there and in the mix.”

Hickey’s win in Cardiff put him on the top of the British Cross-Challenge rankings with one fixture to go, the UK Intercounties in Birmingham in March.