With this year’s Almond Blossom International Cross Country doubling as the European Champion Clubs Cup Cross Country, the IAAF Cross Country permit meeting will welcome the leading clubs from across the continent on Sunday (5).
Turkish teams will be aiming to sweep all four titles (two senior, two U20), having come close last year when winning three of the four titles on offer.
As was the case 12 months ago, the senior men’s race will once again be the biggest challenge for the two Turkish clubs, Istanbul BBK and Galatasaray SK. Bekir Karayel and Vedat Gunen, who finished first and third respectively at last year’s European Champion Clubs Cup Cross Country, will lead Istanbul BBK. But French team Alés Cévennes, the defending champions, will be buoyed by three men who finished in the top six last year: Romain Courcieres, Ben Lkhainouch El Hassane and Freddy Guimard.
Spanish team Atletismo Bikila features two past winners in the form of Ayad Lamdassem and Alemayehu Bezabeh. Bolstered by the likes of Abdalaziz Merzougui, Daniel Mateo, Iván Galán and Javier López, they appear more than capable of challenging for the team title.
Norwegian club IK Tjalve packed three men into the top eight last year. Their team on Sunday also includes Eritrea’s 2013 African youth champion Awet Kibrab and his compatriot Okubamichael Fissehatsion.
The host nation will be represented by Sporting CP, who have won 14 team titles in the past and will be returning to this competition after a 19-year hiatus. Helio Gomes and Algeria’s Rabah Aboud carry their team’s hopes.
Cheptai goes for hat-trick
Kenya’s Irene Cheptai, representing Turkish club Uskudar Belediye, has won the past two editions of the European Champion Clubs Cup Cross Country. She finished seventh at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Guiyang 2015 and replicated that position over 5000m at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015.
She will be joined on the Uskudar Belediye team by European steeplechase bronze medallist Ozlem Kaya, who finished runner-up to Cheptai last year.
As ever, Spanish club Bilbao Atletismo will field a strong team. Trihas Gebre and Romania’s Ancuta Bobocel will team up with Iris Fuentes-Pila as they attempt to improve on their second-place finish from last year.
For the other teams the last step of the podium is really open!
After Portuguese team SL Benfica due to various injuries and lack of form, the third step on the team podium looks set to be wide open.
Turkish clubs have won the junior men’s team on nine occasions and three-time winners Kocaeli Darica look set to continue that trend as they take on 2012 and 2013 winners Benfica. Turkish and Portuguese teams are also the favourites in the junior women’s race as 2015 winners Fenerbahce take on Bursa Büyüksehir.
António Manuel Fernandes for the IAAF