Alex Schwazer begins to break away from the leading pack during the men's 50km walk (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Schwazer, Diniz, Tysse to take centre stage in Sesto San Giovanni - Race Walking Challenge

Alex Schwazer is the headliner of the 53rd edition of the Coppa Città di Sesto San Giovanni near Milan, the Italian leg of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge scheduled on 1st May.

The 20km race of the famous Northern Italian race is expected to be a tussle between strong 50km walking stars who will compete over the shorter distance to test their shape two weeks before the IAAF Race Walking Cup in Chihuahua scheduled on 15-16 May 2010.

Final tune-up for Chichuhua World Cup

The starting list of the 1 May race features Yohann Diniz from France, the 2006 European champion at 50km, the Norwegian pair formed by Eric Tysse, the 2008 Olympic Games fifth placer in the 50km and winner in Sesto in 2007, and Trond Nymark, the World Championships silver medallist from Berlin 2009 and André Höhne of Germany, fifth in the 50km in his native city Berlin and son of Christoph Höhne, 1968 Olympic champion in the 50km in Mexico City.  

Italian star Schwazer showed that he is in the form of his life on 14th March when he sensationally broke the Italian record of Race Walking legend Maurizio Damilano at the Memorial Albisetti in Lugano with a remarkable 1:18:24.

Schwazer will make his final tune-up before Chihuahua after an intense period of training in Val Senales under the guidance of his coach Sandro Damilano. During his comeback season after a difficult 2009 year in which he dropped out during the 50km race at the World Championships in Berlin, Schwazer also smashed the 35km Italian record by ten minutes in Montalto di Castro in January with 2:26:16 and won the 50km Italian title in Signa on a very windy and cold day.

He will be looking to become the first Italian to win the Sesto race since 2004 when local favourite Alessandro Gandellini, now a walking coach, took the honours ahead of Ivano Brugnetti, who went on to win the Olympic title later that summer in Athens.

Rio Mayor winner Tysse back in contention

After Sesto, Schwazer will leave for Chihuahua on 6 May for a period of training at high altitude ahead of the World Cup.

Schwazer will square off against Erik Tysse, who won the Rio Major leg of the IAAF circuit in 1:20:08. Tysse, the younger brother of double olympic silver medallist and three-time Sesto race winner Kjersti Plätzer-Tysse, boasts a very proud past in the major Italian race with a win in 2007, two second places in 2006 and 2009 and a third place in 2008.

Sesto will offer the chance of a re-match for Diniz who finished runner-up in Rio Major behind Tysse. The Frenchman won the World silver medal at 50km in Osaka 2007 beating Alex Schwazer but was forced to drop out in the Olympic race in Bejing won by the Italian walker.

The line-up will also feature Robert Heffernan of Ireland, eighth in the 20km in Bejing and second in Lugano last month, Joao Vieira of Portugal (third in Sesto last year), Hatem Ghoula of Tunisia, third at the World Championships in Osaka 2007, Alexandr Yargunkin of Russia, a 1:19:57 performer who finished fourth in Lugano and a strong contingent led by Ding Chen and Wang Zhen, who finished fifth and sixth respectively in Lugano.

Most of the Chinese athletes scheduled to compete in Sesto on Saturday trained at the Italian Walking School in Saluzzo with the group of Italian walkers coached by Sandro Damilano.

Women's race

The women’s race scheduled on Saturday morning will be highlighted by Olive Loughnane of Ireland, the IAAF World Championships silver medallist from Berlin and Vera Santos of Portugal, winner on home-turf in Rio Mayor ahead of Melanie Seeger of Germany and Yanfei Li of China. 

Both Seeger and Yanfei Li are also in the Sesto line-up. Yanfei Li won the World junior bronze medal in Bydgoszcz 2008. The Chinese contingent also features Li Li, second in Lugano in the race behind Yanfei Li.

The other top-names are Johanna Jackson of Great Britain, fourth in Lugano and the Swiss sisters Marie and Laura Polli from Lugano, who are coached by Italian walking trainer Pietro Pastorini.

Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF