With less than a week to go to the IAAF World Race Walking Cup which will be held in Chihuahua, Mexico, the IAAF previews the highlights which can be expected next Saturday and next Sunday 14 & 15 May.
This could be the race of the weekend with Alex Schwazer and Jared Tallent going head-to-head for the individual title.
Even if the Russian machine had its shiniest components - it’s doubtful that they would have motored past this pair.
Both are in the form of their life - and both fill the top-two spots for fastest 20km times in 2010.
Schwazer strolled a 3:50:22 in March at the longer distance, and his Australian rival surprised himself when the aptly named Tallent dipped under 3:39:00 back in November.
The pair also race well under pressure as befits a duo who can lay out their World Cup and Olympic medals in all three colours.
For a short while, Schwazer was also the World record holder, until eclipsed by Denis Nizhegorodov at the last World Cup in 2008.
But the Russian won’t be in Chihuahua – and more to the point – this race will be 1,400m above sea level.
If there’s one event that could see conditions having an effect, it’s a race where the best merely bide their time for the first 30km – and then move up a couple of gears.
That won’t be easy with less oxygen to go around, and anyone getting under 3:45.00 will be pretty certain to feature in the medal shake-up.
Italy versus Australia for the team race is also on the bill – although Mexico and Spain will undoubtedly have something to say about that.
Russia could even struggle to even get on the podium with none of their 2008walkers in Chihuahua if the other countries mentioned are on form.
Horacio Nava, with a 3:45:21 PB, is the one top Mexican actually from the host city, and should be best able to deal with heat and height when those with faster times start to wilt.
And would anyone care to bet against Jesus Angel Garcia getting another medal?
The Spaniard will be 41 in October, and at an age when the rest have long binned their trainers, Garcia won bronze in the IAAF World Championships last August to go with the five other gold medals gained at the highest level – and 13 years after he won the World Cup 50km in Podebrady.
But if Garcia has defied the age barrier, Fabio Ruzzier has smashed it down. The Slovenian had to take a deep breath to blow all the candles out at his birthday in January – there were 53 of them.
He too, will be toeing the line in the north Mexican city.
Unless someone has been keeping their form secret – the men’s 20km looks to be a very lonely walk for Eder Sanchez.
If ever a walker had an incentive to win a race, it’s the IAAF World Championship bronze medallist and IAAF Walks Challenge winner on home soil following a solid winter’s training in Australia.
Sanchez’s times since the turn of the year have been nothing special - but he’s now got the hang of showing when it matters, and the smart money is on a man who’s been biding his time for this one.
His technique usually attracts little attention from the judges - but there will certainly be others hoping to give him a walk for his money.
If Sanchez falters, there’s a phalanx of talent ready to step out of his shadow.
Former IAAF Challenge winner Erik Tysse will certainly be close after setting his PB in the previous World Cup in Cheboksary two years ago.
The consistent Norwegian lies fifth on the current 2010 list after a pacy 80:08 win at the Rio Maior IAAF Walks Challenge last month.
Former European Cup winner Yohan Diniz has switched back to the shorter distance after mixed results at 50km, although the Frenchman should be looking over his shoulder at two outsiders.
The Russians have sent what coach Alex Melnikov describes as a ‘young’ team for the trip to Chihuahua, and they don’t get much younger and talented than Denis Strelkov.
Last year, the 19-year-old was a mere fourth in the European Cup junior 10km in Metz on the back of a bronze at the Cheboksary World Cup.
But Strelkov has been elevated to the senior team after a sparkling 80:19 debut at his country’s winter championships in February.
If the big occasion gets the better of the teenager, Luis Fernando Lopez picks up the reins of a strong Colombian tradition in the event. And after posting 81:17 in Rio Maior – it’s worth noting Sanchez himself considers Lopez a threat.
Japan occupy two of the top-six form places in Iasamu Fujisawa Yusuke Suzuku, with the latter posting a massive two-minute improvement on 2009 to record 80:06 in February.
Team-wise, China, Russia, and Spain all have top outfits, and the hosts also will be there or thereabouts.
Intriguingly, Mexico has named 40-year-old Bernardo Segura in their line-up.
Even non-walking fans will remember the man who appeared to have won the 2000 Olympic title, only to be disqualified 35 minutes later as he was congratulated on the phone by the Mexican President.
Perhaps this time, the 1999 World Cup winner will make another call to tell absent friends he’s back on the podium again as a be-medalled team member.
Junior men 10km
The red tryst with the junior competitions seems as strong as ever – despite the fact Russia has largely two unknown teams headed for Chihuahua.
Valeriy Filipchuk is the best known of the six men and women having won the European junior bronze medal in Serbia last year to go with silver at the European Cup – but the others are the inevitable product of the Russian Winter World Championships in Sochi.
Each World Cup year since the first junior championship in 2004, the races down by the Black Sea produce the fastest times going into the Cup – and each year those who shine in the sun inevitably produce the goods later on as well.
Sochi, or Adler next door, has produced a clutch of world’s fastest times that go unratified because they don’t have the top judges to monitor the top walks.
However, no-one doubts the form recorded, and it would be a brave man who saw anything but another clean sweep for a country that by its own admission expects to hog the lot.
Those headed for the team podium alongside Filipchuk are Konstantin Kulagov and Dementiy Cheparev – all with times comfortably under 41 minutes, which by Russian standards is dawdling, but still far too good for the rest.
The one fly in the Russian ointment could be Veli-Matti Partanen from next door in Finland.
The 18-year-old broke up the Russian clean sweep at the European Cup last year when he landed an unexpected bronze – and with a season’s best of 41:41 to go with a cool head when it comes to racing – could easily do the same again.
As ever, China has a decent team on paper, with Australia, Colombia and Italy also boasting strength in depth. That said, with the exception of Partanen, the rest could be anything up to the 400 metres behind Russia by the finish if form is anything to go by.
Paul Warburton for the IAAF