Who will pass the stiff European Cross test?

Athletes ready for a real challenge on a Lisbon course which looks set to provide an incident-packed day of racing at Bella Vista Park

European Athletics president Svein Arne Hansen described the venue for this year’s SPAR European Cross Country Championships as  “the most beautiful course I’ve ever seen” and the Bella Vista Park course has received the thumbs up from many of the athletes who are getting ready to compete in Lisbon.

There are twists, tight turns, many ups and a few tricky downs to negotiate throughout an undeniably arduous circuit which will prove to be a real test not only of ability but also endurance.

The downhill section which closes each lap and from which competitors will have to control their jelly legs as they finally hit the flat finishing straight could provide plenty of incident and may well see a few positions change hands as the races reach their climax.

British mountain and ultra marathon runner Tom Evans, making his debut at these championships after a remarkable performance at the UK trials in Liverpool, is a man used to dealing with a climb or two and he offered an interesting perspective.

“It’s dry so in theory it’s going to be fast but it’s very hilly and I think it’s all going to be about race management,” he said. “If you are efficient running downhill – where you’re still going fast but you’re actually recovering – that’s how to run this race.

“There will be people who haven’t run downhill who will think ‘actually I’m just going to throw myself down it’, arms going everywhere but in that situation your heart rate is actually probably going to go up and you’ll have no respite at all.

“It’s really cool course and I think it really suits a slower runner who has the confidence to be a minute behind the lead group at halfway.”

Evans’ compatriot Charlotte Arter, seventh in the senior women’s race in Tilburg last year and an athlete intent on improving on that performance, said: “The hills will hopefully suit me and I think it’s great that it’s a really testing course – it’s how cross country should be. There are no man-made obstacles – it’s just what the park has got to offer so I think it will be exciting.”

That was a view echoed by British team captain Adam Hickey, who said: “It’s a proper cross country course – and one us Brits should do well on. There are proper undulations and plenty of climbs, as well as a few downhill so it should be quite a full-on race.”

The presence of athletes such as European 10,000m and half-marathon record holder Julien Wanders merely adds to the intrigue. The Swiss is aiming to becoming his country’s first ever male European Cross medallist and knows he will have his work cut out, but he is far from daunted given where he trains in Kenya.

“In Iten it is hilly everywhere – there are no flat roads really,” says Wanders, who last competed at these championships as a junior. “I don’t know if my style of running is suitable for that, but I’m ready for that.

“I like to change my preparation, to not do the same and feel like I’m falling into a routine every year, so I thought after Doha (the IAAF World Championships) ‘what can I do to change my winter season?’ and I just decided it could be a good challenge for me to go back to cross country. I know I enjoyed it when I was younger and it feels good for me to be back in cross country.”

It looks like being one to remember.

» Click here for your who, what, when? guide to the European Cross Country Championships

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