|Seasoned Jose Manuel Martinez will lead the Spanish
armada at the European Cup 10,000m to be held in
Ribeira Brava on Madeira island in Portugal on
Situated on the island of Madeira, also known as the "Pearl of the Atlantic," Ribeira Brava will witness 53 athletes (36 male and 17 female) from 17 countries slugging it out for the top prize.
The athletes have an additional incentive as the top three finishers in both the men's and women's categories will earn direct qualification to the European Athletics Championships in Barcelona in 2010.
Going by the entry list, an intense contest is on the cards for the men's teams' trophy. Defending champions Russia are back with a strong quartet led by Sergey Ivanov, whose personal best stands at an impressive 27:53.12 minutes, accompanied by Sergey Yemelyanov, and the Rybakov twins, Yevgeniy and Anatoliy.
Spain, Italy and France, as usual, will be forces to reckon with. The presence of aces such as José Manuel Martínez (27:30.56), Daniele Caimmi (27:48.64) and Driss El Himer (27:48.00), respectively, ensures a very high standard.
Hosts Portugal will be the dark horse of the meet, not only having home support but also the wherewithal to go all the way.
However, Turkish Selim Bayrak, the defending champion from Istanbul with a spectacular 27:29.33, will not be participating.
In the women's category, Portugal will once again be the top contender for the team title for the eighth time. They don't just boast the biggest contingent but the quality of the home team led by veteran Fernanda Ribeiro is high. The 40-year-old Ribeiro still boasts the best PB on the entry list.
Apart from the Portuguese athletes, Serbian Olivera Jevtic (31:29.65) and Christelle Daunay of France (31:57.40) will be the frontrunners for the women's individual title.
In order to ensure a high quality level, the organisers have allowed the participation of African athletes as pacemakers.
The event will also offer a golden opportunity for athletes to notch the qualification mark for the IAAF World Championships, scheduled to be held in Berlin from August 15-23. The qualification mark stands at 27:47.00 (male) and 31:45.00 (female).
The track is relatively new and was opened less than two years ago. The Local Organising Committee will also throw in a big party open to the public to add excitement to the race.
"We believe that European countries should strive, in terms of training and competition, to reduce the gap on African domination of long distances, which has only become wider in recent years. This competition was awarded to Portugal, because we have tried to introduce this theme of overcoming. We hope to see some encouraging performances on Saturday," said Fernando Mota, the Portuguese Federation of Athletics President, at the pre-event press conference.