Lamdassem, Meucci, Pavey and Straneo aim to impress in Bilbao
|2011 SPAR European Cross Country Championships
silver medallist Ayad Lamdassem will spearhead
the Spanish challenge at the European Cup
10,000m on home soil in Bilbao.
Spain will defend the men's team title it won 12 months ago in Oslo and its team includes the 2010 and 2011 SPAR European Cross Country Championships silver medallist Ayad Lamdassem.
Lamdassem is looking for a very fast time over 25 laps of the track ahead of anticipated outings at the European Athletics Championships and Olympic Games.
He is one of eight men in the 51 entries (excluding pacemakers) who can boast of a best under 28 minutes but Spain also have three other men who have achieved such a feat in their team, Carles Castillejo, Miguel Ángel Penas and the evergreen 2004 and 2009 Cup winner José Manuel 'Chema' Martinez.
Martinez, whose list of continental honours also includes the 2002 European Athletics Championships 10,000m gold medal, a silver over the same distance four years later and a marathon silver medal at the 2010 European Athletics Championships, is also the second fastest man in this year's field with a best of 27:30.56, although that time dates from 2003.
Now 40, Martinez could feasibly have a chance in Bilbao of breaking the veteran's world record of 28:30.88, which has stood to Finland's Matti Vainio since 1991.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to the Spanish men overall could come from their rivals from across the Mediterranean, Italy, who have a chance to take the team title for the first time.
Among men wearing the Azzurri vest is former SPAR European Cross Country Championships junior and under 23 winner Andrea Lalli, who is the fastest European over the half marathon this year, 2010 European Athletics Championships 10,000m bronze medallist Daniele Meucci and Ruggero Pertile, who has been one of Europe's top marathon runners in recent years and who was fourth at the 2010 European Athletics Championships.
Meucci has already shown that he is in excellent shape by clocking the fastest 10,000m time by a European this year when he ran a personal best of 27:32.86 in California at the end of April.
|Great Britain's Jo Pavey is aiming to become just
the second British woman after Paula Radcliffe to
get a medal at the event.
On paper, Spain and Italy look a class apart from the other seven teams that could potentially put together a scoring trio of runners.
The race for the third place on the podium could be closely contested between France - although the medal hopes of Les Bleus have been hindered by the late withdrawal of 2010 Cup silver medallist Abdellatif Meftah – Portugal and Turkey.
Turkey have made a big impact on the European distance running landscape in the last decade.
This time, their team includes the 2009 European Athletics U23 Championships 10,000m gold medallist Mert Girmalegese and Polat Kemboi Arikan, who set a national 5000m record of 13:05.98 last year and who will be making his debut over 25 laps of the track.
Girmalegese holds the Turkish 10,000m record with 27.29:33, set at the 2008 Olympic Games, and is the fastest man in the field, but struggled with injuries last year.
The women's contest has 41 runners entries.
Great Britain's Jo Pavey heads the list of five women who have run under 32 minutes and the 38-year-old runner, who has a best of 31:12.30 which she ran in the 2008 Olympic final, has turned her attention to the track after just missing out on being selected to run the marathon at the Olympic Games this summer.
It would be Pavey's second appearance at the European Cup, after finishing fourth in 2007, and she is aiming to become just the second British woman to get a medal at the event.
Her illustrious compatriot Paul Radcliffe won in 1999 and 2001 as well as getting the silver medal in 1998 but no other British woman has yet made it to podium in the individual race although Britain has been the runners up four times in the team competition.
The next two fastest women behind Pavey are Germany's Sabrina Mochenhaupt and Portugal's Sara Moreira, who have both won the Cup in the past: Mockenhaupt in 2005 and Moreira last year in Oslo.
However, a lot of attention will also be on two Italian women who have yet to break 32 minutes but who have demonstrated the talent that could see them make a big breakthrough in Bilbao.
Valeria Straneo improved the Italian national marathon record to a 2012 European-leading time of 2:23:44 at the Rotterdam Marathon in April and it also the fastest European over the half marathon.
Also wearing the familiar blue vest of the Azzuri will be Nadia Ejjafini, who set her personal best of 32:14.62 when finishing fifth at the 2011 European Cup 10,000m in Oslo.
The pair could also give Italy a good shot at defending its women's team title although Portugal, who have won the women's title nine times in the last 15 years and whose team includes the two-time Cup bronze medallist Ana Dias, are strong candidates to stand on top of the podium again.
Five other countries are also potentially in contention for the team medals.
Belarus finished third behind Italy and Portugal 12 months ago but don't appear to have quite as strong a team this time and the most likely contenders to split up the top two from Oslo, and even take the team gold medals for the first time, even are Great Britain.
In addition to Pavey, the British squad includes Charlotte Purdue and Gemma Steel.
Purdue, 2010 SPAR European Cross Country Championships junior women's gold medallist, ran a 10,000m best of 32:03.55 in California in April and stands third on the 2012 European rankings while Steel got the bronze medal in the 2010 SPAR European Cross Country Championships senior women's race and will be making her 10,000m debut.
Turkey's 2009 SPAR European Cross Country Championships under 23 gold medallist Sultan Haydar could also enter the reckoning for an individual medal.
Like Steel, Haydar will also be making her debut over the distance on the track and there is considerable interest in what she can do after setting a Turkish marathon record of 2:25.07 at the Paris Marathon in April.