For the first time in recent year, the Algarve Almond Blossom Cross Country races will not have the presence of directly invited African runners because the 37th edition of this historic event will incorporate the European Champion Clubs Cup Cross Country on Sunday (2).
Instead, the fields at the ninth of this winter’s 12 IAAF Cross Country Permit meetings, will be made up exclusively of runners from the participating clubs.
In the men’s 10.1km race, the favourite teams are Spain’s reigning champions Atletismo Bikilia and Italy’s G.S. Fiamme Gialle. The Portuguese representatives, Sport Lisboa e Benfica aren’t quite as strong but certainly will have the attention of the crowd.
Last year, on home turf in Castellon, Bikila team took the team title but the individual winner was Italy’s 2012 European cross country champion Andrea Lalli who, wearing the colours of Fiamme Galle, will this year will face his Spanish successor on the continental stage, Alemayehu Bezabeh.
Bezabeh who has also been a winner three times in this Cup: in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Also in the strong Bikila team is another man with a great Cup pedigree, Ayad Lamdasen, the winner in 2008 and 2012 as well as being second in 2007, 2010 and 2012.
Bikila can also boast of Ivan Fernandez, 11th at the 2013 European Cross Country Championships in December and a member of Spain’s gold-medal winning senior men’s team in Belgrade, as well as Spanish international distance runner Javier Guerra.
Other European runners who could make their mark in Albufeira are Germany’s Richard Ringer, a surprise seventh in the Serbian capital eight weeks ago, and France’s El Hassane Ben Lkhainouch, who was 10th in the same race.
On the Benfica team, getting the cheers from the home crowd will be regular Portuguese internationals Rui Pedro Silva and Ricardo Ribas.
All eyes on Ayalew
Sport Club Luch Moscow are the favourites to defend their senior women’s title, over 5.8km, and return with Lyudmila Lebedeva (third in the 2013 Cup) and Natalya Gorchakova (eighth in 2013), two of the four women on last year’s winning team.
However, the favorite for the individual crown and the winner in 2013 is definitely Hiwot Ayalew, from Turkey’s Uskudar team, the Cup winners in 2011 and 2012.
The Ethiopian runner was second at the 2013 IAAF World Cross Country Championships last March and is currently in great form judging by her impressive wins at other IAAF Permit meeting in San Giorgio su Legnano and Sevilla during January. In fact, she has been unbeaten since the start of the winter and will be looking to extend her cross country winning streak to six races.
Among Ayalew’s team mates is the 2012 European Athletics Championships 3000m steeplechase winner Gulcan Mingir.
Maratona Clube de Portugal is not so strong as its golden tyears of not so long ago but can still field well-known internationals Sara Moreira and Analia Rosa while Italy’s C.S Esercito has Nadia Ejjafini, Veronica Inglese and Elena Romagnol in its squad and the two clubs could also be battling for a place on the podium.
This year, there are 343 runners from 48 participating clubs representing 23 IAAF and European Athletics Member Federations entered for the various Cup races in Albufeira.
António Manuel Fernandes for the IAAF