This race should be the most open contest of the weekend – and the one real chance for everyone else to dent a Russian clean sweep.
There is no obvious favourite unlike the women’s event, and it wouldn’t be the biggest shock to see a dozen walkers still going hammer-and-tongs for first on the final lap.
The unknown factor is defending champion Francisco Fernandez. ‘Paquillo’ has so far kept his 2008 powder dry while opponents at the sharp end have already posted impressive times.
This time two years ago there was only going to be one winner. But if the Spaniard dominates again, it must only because the others have failed to recover from their exertions like reigning three-time World champion Jefferson Perez.
The Ecuadorean has a copper-bottomed pedigree when it comes to the big ones. But he walked a tough 20k last weekend in Italy to get away from Olympic champion Ivano Brugnetti at the Sesto San Giovanni Grand Prix. However, while Perez is travelling to Cheboksary he has already publicly confirmed that he does not intend to compete this weekend and is only here to support the Ecuadorian team.
Norway’s Erik Tysse was third in the same race, and Roland Saquipay, so long an understudy to Perez back in their home country, was fourth.
Can they all rise to the occasion seven days later?
Track sprinters might, but 20k at around 3:55mins pace so soon after will need all the stops pulled out.
Luke Adams won the 2007 IAAF Race Walking Challenge Series, but the Australian pulled out of the Beijing leg of the competition last month early on, fearful of aggravating an old injury.
While question marks remain over Adams, the injury problems to another Australian Nathan Deakes, the World champion and world record holder for 50km, have already caused him to withdraw from the Cup earlier this week.
However, their compatriot Jared Tallent will certainly pose a real threat to the five Russian vests.
The aptly-named Tallent, has stepped up to the plate with an excellent win in Beijing, thus beating all the Chinese hoping to impress in the debut competition at the Olympic ‘Bird’s Nest’ Stadium.
His PB improvement by nearly two minutes in February to become only the fifth Aussie to go under 80 minutes offers, if nothing else, a return trip to the team podium for the second time to follow on from 2006’s splendid second.
But, and this weekend for every other name mentioned, there has to be a big ‘but’ in the shape of the Russian team.
All five of them top the 2008 world lists so far with Valeriy Borchin number one after his 77:55 in Adler at the Russian Winter Championships in February.
The other four recorded their superfast times there too. But, the consolation for the rest is that Adler historically produces the times – but not always the medallists when it matters.
The World record holder for 20km is going the extra mile and the rest at this weekend’s World Cup.
Perhaps the Russian selectors are worried Vladimir Kanaykin may attract judges’ attention in the relative sprint for the shorter distance.
Kanaykin may have knocked five seconds off Jefferson Perez’s superlative mark for 20km in the IAAF Race Walking Challenge Final in Saransk last September, but he’s suffered in the 50km event.
Disqualified in the last two World Cups, Kanaykin has still got more than enough to head the field at 50km. His 3:40:57 for the distance in the European Cup at Leamington last year was only 17 seconds outside his best.
But strange things happen once a walker gets past 30km.
Who would have thought then World champion Sergey Kirdyapkin would have been reduced to the fate of the walking dead at La Coruna last time out?
But the 2005 Helsinki winner wasn’t the first to experience the pain of energy levels gone awry requiring gritted teeth to crawl 33:00 for the final 5km.
It mattered little as far as the individual title’s destination was concerned. It went back to Russia for the third time in a row as Denis Nizhegorodov won by more than three minutes to create a new championship record.
With all three Russians toeing the line in Cheboksary, plus the insurance of two other strong team members, it’s difficult to look beyond the home nation both individually and team-wise.
But given the vagaries of judges and juice running out when least expected, Alex Schwazer is a surprise entry just a week after his 20km effort at the Sesto San Giovanni race.
The Italian has the second-fastest time in history and two World Championship bronze medals – and at 23 – time on his side.
If the thin red line shows signs of wilting, Schwazer should be there or thereabouts.
After him, the dependable Jesus Angel Garcia of Spain will be up in the lead pack at his sixth World Cup, no doubt showing few signs of slowing despite celebrating his 38th birthday last October, 11 years after he won in Podebrady.
Twins at this year’s World Cup are, as the well-known British joke goes, "like London buses, nothing for ages, and then two (sets) come along at once!"
The Torla brothers from Spain compete in the junior 10km, while Daniel and Dominic King make up the two Great Britain men at Cheboksary.
Daniel has already walked a ‘B’ standard qualifying time for the Olympics, and anything under four hours should see him collect the dubious reward of another go at 25x2k laps against top competition in August.
Hopefully, by then the lactic acid ringing in his ears will be a faded memory.
Junior Men’s 10km
Any hope of an upset to the Russian-Chinese charge at the front of the men’s junior 10km rests with the Spanish Torla twins.
For once, seeing double won’t need an eye test as 18-year-old Luis and Manel hope to mix it with the two powerful nations in a race where a cool head on young shoulders tends to pay dividends.
Frequently in the past, the gun has been the signal for the unwary to fly out of the traps only to catch the early attention of judges.
Vladimir Kanaykin has subsequently broken the senior 20k World record. But the Russian champion will remember he was a minute clear in the 2004 junior race at halfway before watching the rest of the race from the side of the road.
Luis’s 40:45 at Podebrady in April puts him ahead of his twin by 22 seconds. But statistically, Luis’s decent effort at the site of the 1997 World Cup still leaves him a lowly eighth in the 2008 lists. The other nine in the top ten are either Russian or Chinese, with the first four marks recorded at the Russian Winter Championships at Adler in February.
Newcomer Edikt Khaybullin took a huge chunk out of his PB to sprint first over the line in 39:13, with the next three a mere five seconds back.
Interestingly, only one of the Chinese in the world lists has been selected for Cheboksary. But Rhui Zhang’s 39:50 in March makes him the obvious contender to break up the podium’s expected all-Russian look.
Paul Warburton for the IAAF