Sixty teams will gather in Mira on Sunday (4) for the European Champion Clubs Cup Cross Country and Turkey’s Istanbul BBSK and Uskudar Belediye, the respective senior men’s and women’s champions, are packed with strength again as they look to retain their crowns.
But it could be close, such is the quality of the opposition in a competition which is sprinkled with medallists from the SPAR European Cross Country Championships.
The senior women’s race will be between 15 clubs over 6.26km and Turkey have entered two teams: reigning champions Uskudar Belediye and Bursa Buyuksehir Belediye SK.
It brings together a fine domestic duel amid the drama of who will take the individual and team title. Among the pre-race favourites are Ozlem Kaya and Esma Aydemir who have raced together on Turkish teams in the past but they will find themselves as adversaries on Sunday as Kaya runs for Uskudar Belediye and Aydemir for Bursa Buyuksehir Belediye SK.
The duo made the podium in Samorin as Turkey won team bronze but they may find themselves chasing one of Europe’s best cross country women in Spain’s Trihas Gebre.
Gebre was second last year and she returns for Bilbao Atletismo Santutxu no doubt looking to go one better in the individual race.
But it might just be Portugal’s day as their Sporting Clube de Portugal team is packed with experienced distance stars.
Jessica Augusto and Sara Moreira have amassed seven European cross country gold medals between them and their squad is strengthened by the inclusion of former European U20 cross country champion Ines Monteiro and Sara Catarina Ribeiro.
Also watch out for European U23 3000m steeplechase champion Anna Emilie Moller who will be out to make a mark in the colours of Denmark’s Blovstroed Loeverne.
Ozdemir leads Istanbul BBSK's prospects
Istanbul BBSK will draft the same men’s quartet which helped them team gold last year when Ramazan Ozdemir was fourth as Italy’s Yemaneberhan Crippa won the individual title. Behind Ozdemir - and returning to club duties once more - is Sedat Gunen, who was seventh; Alper Demir, who was 11th; and Bekir Karayel, who was 15th.
They combined as a quartet to score 37 points to claim the team plaudits ahead of Sporting Clube de Portugal (45) and Spain’s Atletismo Bikila (76).
In a men’s race over 10.33km - and made up of 22 clubs - leading the way for Atletismo Bikila is veteran Ayad Lamdassem who seems to thrive in Portugal. He was third in this event in Albufeira last year, and also won an individual silver medal at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships back in 2010.
It is his teammate Daniel Mateo who could make the biggest impression for Atletismo Bikila after finishing eighth - and two places ahead of Lamdassem - at the SPAR European Country Championships in Samorin last December.
Elsewhere, Belgium’s Isaac Kimeli, the 2016 SPAR European U23 cross country champion, and European U23 5000m silver medallist Simon Debognies are sure to be at the forefront of Olympic Essenbeck Halle’s bid.
The U20 men’s race in which 13 clubs will take to the start line over 6.26km will see Spain’s Mario Garcia back for Playas de Castellon after his fine run led them to team glory in Albufeira last year.
Aaron Las Heras, who was eighth last year, and Mohamed Reda Sebie, who was 12th, also return with Playas de Castellon favourites to retain the title.
In the U20 women’s 4.95km, twelve teams will compete for honours with Denmark’s Anna Mark Helwigh returning to defend her individual title. She also helped Sparta AM to a bronze medal in the team race behind Turkish sides of Bursa and Fenerbahce Sport Club.
Fenerbahce will be back in action while Turkey also have runners from Gaziantep Solen Spor Kulubu chasing club gold again.