Soufiane Bouchikhi has already put together a fine cross country season and he will look to further embellish his record at the Structabo CrossCup in Hannut, one of three European Athletics Cross Country Permit Meeting this weekend, on Sunday (19).
Bouchikhi, who won this race in 2018, was the first scoring member of Belgium’s silver medal-winning team in the senior race at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Lisbon where he finished seventh individually, one place ahead of teammate Isaac Kimeli.
Kimeli, who finished second in Hannut last year, is absent from this year’s race as he is currently on a high altitude training trip in South Africa but Soufiane will be joined on the start-line in Hannut by his younger brother Lahsene. He was Belgium’s third scoring counter in Lisbon in 23rd.
The biggest challenge to the Bouchikhis will come from Germany in the shape of Samuel Fitwi. Fitwi won an individual silver medal in the U23 race behind Jimmy Gressier at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in 2018 and he made a successful transition into the senior ranks in Lisbon in December. He finished sixth at the Bela Vista Park, one place and two seconds ahead of Bouchikhi.
Fitwi also arrives in Hannut fresh from a 10km lifetime best of 28:11 from the 10K Valencia Ibercaja last weekend.
A late entrant into the senior men's race is Great Britain's Andy Vernon who knows all about racing in Hannut. Vernon won this race in 2017 and was second to Bouchikhi in 2018.
Anna Gosk from Poland will defend her title in the senior women’s race. Gosk provided the first part of a Poland one-two twelve months ago, breaking the tape ahead of her compatriot Katarzyna Rutkowska.
Her main rival is likely to be Romania’s Roxana Barca who has twice finished inside the top eight at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships. Meanwhile the home contingent is headed by Belgian internationals Sofie Van Accom, Hanna Vandenbussche and Hanne Verbruggen.
Crippa and Roffino to challenge for home victories in Rovereto
There might also be some domestic success at the Cross della Vallagarina in Rovereto on Sunday.
Not since 2005 has there been an Italian winner of the men’s senior race but Nekagenet Crippa - the older brother of Yemaneberhan - is among the principal contenders in the senior men’s 9.070km.
Yemaneberhan has very much taken the plaudits in his ascent through the ranks but Nekagenet had one of his best seasons to date last year, winning the Italian half marathon title and then making the team for the SPAR European Cross Country Championships.
With two-time champion Telahun Haile Bekele from Ethiopia not competing, Crippa’s main rivals will be Spain’s Ibrahim Ezzaydouny - a 8:14.49 3000m steeplechaser - and Burundi’s Olivier Irabaruta.
In the senior women’s 5.34km, Czech Republic’s Moira Stewartova will seek to become the first woman to win back-to-back titles in Rovereto since 1985 although Valeria Roffino, who finished 11th at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships, is the probable favourite for the title.
The Cross della Vallagarina is one of the longest standing fixtures on the European cross country calendar. The roots of the event date back to 1978 when the event was staged a homage to local distance runner Cristina Tomasini. The men’s race was added to the programme in 1981.
At the Abdijcross in Kerkrade on Sunday, Ruth van der Meijden will look to improve on her runner-up finish in the senior women’s 7.4km while the senior men’s 10.5km features a strong home contingent - Michel Butter, Jesper van der Wielen and Noah Schutte - against the likes of Brits Mahamed Mahamed and Zakaria Mahamed.