The new year starts with a bang in Brighton's Stanmer Park tomorrow when the Sussex Cross country championships are held over what promises to be firm and fast conditions.

Although the senior women's title looks like remaining in the hands of Arena 80's Caroline Hoyte, the men's event looks to be fairly open.

Reigning champion Gavin Thompson has been at university in America and it is uncertain if he will be home to defend his crown.

Last year, Brighton and Hove's Steve Rees-Jones finished just two seconds down on Thompson in the closest battle for more than a decade. Having placed third the previous year, Rees-Jones is certainly looking to take the title tomorrow.

Currently at Sheffield University, Rees-Jones has not faced Sussex opposition this season so it is difficult to assess his form against other Sussex runner.

Following his runaway victory in the Sussex League at Lancing just before Christmas, Crawley's Louis Jones must be rated a strong contender while there are queries over the fitness of several possible challengers.

Crawley clubmate Joel Kidger was still recovering from a cold at Lancing, where he finished third, and he has a certain class about him that suggests he could challenge for the crown.

Another Crawley runner and several times medallist in this championship, Kevin Holland, has been injured for most of the season and he is not thought to be fit enough to put up a serious challenge this year.

Patrick Davoren from the Phoenix Club, winner in 1998 and 2000, showed he is in pretty good shape with a convincing victory on the road in Preston Park on Boxing Day and he is a serious contender.

"Super Vet" Nigel Gates (Brighton & Hove), who has already three titles under his belt, is probably at his best over the hills of Stanmer Park but it would be an amazing feat if he could take his fourth title at the age of 48.

Gates' much younger clubmate, triathlete Tracy Harris, has been showing his best ever form over the country this season and he is a strong competitor who will not be fazed by the Stanmer Hills.

Last year at Lancing, Emma Satterley (Phoenix) was the only runner to put up any sort of challenge to Hoyte but this year Joanne Hinde from Hastings, who led the Sussex team home in the South of England Inter-county Championships at Bury St.Edmunds last month, could provide stiff opposition.

Hoyte, Satterley and Hinde are the most likely medallists with Hoyte probably taking the gold and leading Arena 80 to another team victory. The races start at 11.00.