In the first of our previews ahead of Sunday's SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Hyères, we focus on the men's and women's junior races.
Italy back with their golden boys
A year ago in Samokov, the men’s junior result at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships produced an amazing sequence: Italy won from Spain from Italy from Spain from Italy.
Out of that top five, four of the runners return to Hyères for what could be a thrilling re-match.
They include the defending champion, Italy’s Yemaneberhan Crippa, who triumphed by 15 seconds to lift the crown.
The only one of that quintet not back for this race is Spain's Carlos Mayo who was second but now 20, he is here in France competing later in the morning in his first attempt in the under-23 race.
But Italy’s Said Etaqqy, who was third, Spain’s Ayoub Mokhtar, who was fourth, and Italy’s Yohanes Chiappinelli, who was fifth, all return.
Italy also won the team crown 12 months ago, with just 18 points, and the fourth scoring member of that success, Alessandro Giacobazzi, is also competing again, showing just how strong the nation will be.
But it does not mean they are guaranteed a repeat outcome.
The reason why this final major international athletics event of the year is always such a thrilling occasion is because no surface in the sport provides such a challenge as cross-country.
This south east Mediterranean city will be no exception as France hosts the SPAR European Cross Country Championships for the first time.
The venue is the horse race course Hippodrome du Var and here is an example of what is in store for the runners: the original flat course will have obstacles, including three tree trunks and sand and while some parts of the surface is covered by grass, others are coated by ash and there will be a path in the pine forest with pine needles. Let alone the artificial climbs that have been installed.
It all adds to the drama and for Chiappinelli, the chance to add more medal glory in 2015 after his impressive victory by more than six seconds in the 3000m steeplechase at the European Athletics Junior Championships in Eskilstuna last summer.
Patrick Karl, of Germany, was second behind Chiappinelli and he now has an opportunity to overturn that in a six-man squad that will be determined to be in with a shout for a team medal.
Turkey won team bronze in Samokov and from their four scoring athletes then, Ferhat Bozkurt and Ramazan Barbaros are back, while the French team of six includes Baptiste Mischler, the 1500m bronze medallist from Eskilstuna.
Men’s junior race: Start time: 10:59am (CET). Distance: 5.94km
Euro Cross brings together the track's best
When the junior women gather on the start line at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Hyères, there will be a great deal of familiar faces.
It might now be winter but so many of them were stars of the show in the summer at the European Athletics Junior Championships.
Such is the versatility of the runners in this under-20 age group, that this Sunday will see the top three from Eskilstuna in the 1500m, 3000m and 3000m steeplechase, along with the first two from the 5000m, all chase the top prize this time.
It will make for a fascinating race over the 4.15km course, consisting of the start loop, one short loop and one long loop, because for some, such as Germany’s Alina Reh, 18, it comes bang in the middle of her two successful distances and for others, such as Great Britain’s Bobby Clay, 18, it is all about that longer challenge.
Reh won the European junior 3000m and 5000m double in Sweden in July, beating Spain’s Celia Anton, 18, and Denmark’s Anna Emilie Moller, 18, in the 3000m and then in the 5000m, Moller took silver.
Clay led a British one-two in the 1500m, defeating her teammate Amy Griffiths, 19, with Germany’s Konstanze Klosterhalfen, 18, in third, while in the 3000m steeplechase, Turkey’s Sumeyye Erol, 18, won from Carolina Johnsson, 19, of Sweden, and Finland’s Alisa Vaino, 18.
Those medallists will all be seeking more glory on Sunday, with Reh, Griffiths and Moller all looking for that step up after finishing fourth, fifth and sixth respectively last year in Samokov.
Griffiths and Reh still made the podium, though, as Britain won team gold and Germany won bronze.
Clay showed her form with victory at the British trials at the end of last month and her team is aiming to win that title for the sixth time in a row at these SPAR European Cross Country Championships.
But from a final entry list of 92, France will be determined to make an impact. They won team silver last year, with Cassandre Beaugrand, who was seventh in the individual race, returning in the squad with Cecile Lejeune. Celia Bremond, who was in the team 12 months ago, has also been added to the original French six for Hyères along with Alize Genoux.
Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Romania, Switzerland, Turkey and the Ukraine all have big enough squads to chase the team medals, too.
Women’s junior race: Start time: 10:35am (CET). Distance: 4.15km.