ATHLETICS The Great Britain women's team, led by European champion Hayley Yelling and Scotland's Kathy Butler, believed before arriving in France last night that the squad can medal at the world cross-country championships in St Etienne, even without Paula Radcliffe, writes Doug Gillon.

They were surprised to discover conditions closer to those experienced in Athens at the Olympics than those normally associated with cross-country.

There was snow in northfacing gardens, but locals basked as they drank in pavement cafes as the temperature topped 70.

Conditions will play into the hands of Africa and Ethiopia, and leave the GB women scrapping for bronze at best. They won t help Craig Mottram either.

The Australian with the Scottish mother is tipped as the most likely Caucasian to threaten a monopoly of the men s long-course event, African-born athletes have won every individual gold since 1985, and team title since 1980.

Mottram regrets the absence of Alistair Cragg, the injured Irishman who beat Kenenisa Bekele, the Ethiopian defending champion, indoors in December. But he added: "It makes no difference. Plenty Africans will be going well at the front."

He has just spent five weeks' training in the Aussie ski resort of Falls Creek.

"Because I'm just doing the long race, I have been up to 184 kilometres in my peak week. That's my highest."

Scotland's Susan Partridge is reserve for the St Etienne event, but was given the all clear last night and will run the Bristol half marathon on Sunday instead.

She was encouraging runners yesterday to take advantage of "Early Bird" entry, at a - pounds4 discount available until a week today, for the women-only Britannic Asset Management 10k in Glasgow on May 15.

Details: 0845 2700166.