Kiprono Menjo taking the Almond Blossom Cross (Almond Blossom organisers) © Copyright
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Focus on the locals as Portugal to select World XC squad at the Almond Blossom Cross Country

Lisbon, PortugalPortugal will welcome participants to one of the most well-known winter Cross Country competitions in the world, the Algarve International Almond Blossom Cross Country, held on the Açoteias course which will host the 2010 European Cross Country Championships.

The 33rd edition of the Almond Blossom, the final IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting of the 2010 season, will also host the Portuguese long course championships to select the national team for the World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland on 28 March. For this reason, the focus of the races will be on the best Portuguese runners who will also face a stiff test from seasoned internationals.

Menjo set for defence in men's race

In the men’s event, the international field includes Kenyans Josphat Kiprono Menjo, the defending champion here who was eighth in the 10,000m at the World Championships in Athletics, and the winner of the Jean Bouin 10Km in Barcelona last year, along with his countryman Mark Bett. From Russia is expected Andrey Farnosov, the fifth place finisher in the 3000m Steeplechase at the 2005 World University Games, and from Norway Sondre Nordstat Moen, a former cross country skier whose titles on the snow included that of 2006 European champion.

From Portugal, reigning champion Rui Pedro Silva, who was sixth at 2006 European Championships, will defend his title against the Portuguese silver medalist José Rocha, sixth at 2009 European Cross Country Championships, and the 2010 national road running champion, Licinio Pimentel. Other runners in the front line are Eduardo Mbengani, seventh at December’s continental Championships and second in the Oeiras Cross Country behind Ethiopian Gebre Gebrmarian; former national champion Fernando Silva; Hermano Ferreira (second in the Lisbon S. Silvestre race), Luís Feiteira (sixth in the Fukuoka Marathon last December) and Manuel Damião (third in the Amadora S. Silvestre race.

European team champions headline women's contest

The women’s field includes most of the top domestic names, including the winners of the European team crown last December. Among them is Ana Dulce Felix, who was sixth overall in Dublin in December; Sara Moreira, who was 10th at the Europeans and a double World Student games champion last year, as well as 16th at last year’s World Championships; Anália Rosa, who was 14th in the 2009 European Cross Country Championship; Ana Dias, present in both team medals, World bronze and European gold; and former Olympic, World and European champion Fernanda Ribeiro.

From abroad, the key names include Hungarian Aniko Kalovics, an accomplished performer in both Cross Country and on the roads; Russians Natalya Popkova, the 2009 European Under 23 Champion in 5000m and 10,000m, and Kseniya Agafonova, 10,000m champion at the 2007 World University Games; Poland’s Katarzyna Kowalska, a steeplechase finalist at last year’s World Championships; and Sweden’s national indoor 3000m champion Lisa Blommé and Gabriella Samuelsson who was fourth at the Nordic Cross Country Championships last year.

The weather forecast for Sunday calls for better conditions than have hit the Algarve in recent days.

António Manuel Fernandes for the IAAF