Jimmy Gressier just missed out on a place on the podium in the U20 race in 2015 and 2016 but the Frenchman produced an electric sprint finish to win the U23 title at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Samorin last year and he will be defending his title on Sunday (9).
The race was largely billed as a head-to-head between European U23 5000m and 10,000m champions Yemaneberhan Crippa from Italy and Carlos Mayo from Spain but Gressier had the beating of the favoured track exponents, leading a French one-two ahead of Hugo Hay.
With four counters placing inside the top seven, France ran out comprehensive winners of the team title twelve months ago as well. Their team is again headed by Gressier and Hay and even though their two other scoring athletes have since graduated into the senior ranks, their replacements Louis Gilavert and Yani Khelaf were third and fourth respectively in the U20 race last year.
The biggest danger to the French contingent might come from Germany in the shape of Samuel Fitwi, who will be making his championship debut after gaining German citizenship earlier this year. Fitwi easily won the senior trial race in Darmstadt a fortnight ago.
Belgium won silver in the team race last year and they have named another strong team headed by Simon Debognies who will be making his final appearance in the U23 ranks. He was Belgium’s first counter in sixth last year and won silver over 5000m at the European U23 Championships. Debognies is joined by the likes of Dieter Kersten and Dorian Boulvin - the latter was 14th last year.
Other medal candidates include 20-year-old Adrian Ben who represented Spain over 1500m at the European Championships in Berlin and Romania’s Dorin Andrei Rusu, the reigning 10,000m champion from the European U20 Championships.
The U23 men’s race will be held over 8.3km. After an opening lap of one kilometre, the runners will complete four laps of 1500m followed by a bell lap of 1300m.
Moller to face a strong German contingent for the U23 title
Anna Emilie Moller could be forgiven if she doesn’t remember Denmark’s only gold medal in European Cross Country Championships history thus far.
Moller was only four months old when Carsten Jorgensen won the senior men’s title in Oeiras, Portugal in 1997 but the reigning European U23 3000m steeplechase champion could double Denmark’s title haul on Sunday.
Moller arrives in Tilburg with a string of recent victories and podium finishes under her belt, including a gold medal-winning performance at the Nordic Cross Country Championships in Reykjavik.
The 21-year-old also has a fine record at the European Cross Country Championships which she will be looking to extend in Tilburg. Moller has accrued four individual top-eight finishes from as many appearances across the U20 and U23 divisions, including silver in the U20 race in 2016.
On that day, Moller won silver behind Germany’s Konstanze Klosterhalfen. Klosterhalfen and reigning U23 champion Alina Reh are both absent this year but Germany will still be strong contenders for the individual and team titles. Their standout athletes are European U20 5000m champion Miriam Dattke and Anna Gehring, the silver medallist in the U23 race in 2016.
Other medal contenders include Switzerland’s Chiara Scherrer and Great Britain’s Amy Griffiths, who finished fifth in the U23 race last year.
The women’s U23 race will be held over 6.3km. After two circuits of 1000m, the runners will compete two laps of 1500m followed by a closing lap of 1300m.