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Cinfaes to play host to Europe's top mountain runners

The picturesque Portuguese village of Cinfaes host of the 26th edition of the European Mountain Running Championships on 3 July 2021 after being postponed from 2020 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Portugal has twice before been the host for this competition, in 2002 and 2015, but both times they were staged on the island of Madeira so this will be the first occasion when the event has been on the mainland of the country.

The village itself – which is 350km from the Portuguese capital Lisbon and 80km inland from Porto – has only just over 3000 inhabitants but the surrounding municipality brings the population up to 20,000 with steep mountains on either side of the nearby River Douro.

The 2021 competition will be on a downhill course so while Great Britain’s Jacob Adkin and Switzerland’s Maude Mathys won in 2019 on a testing uphill course in Zermatt, Switzerland for an indicator of who might be considered the long-range contenders for the men's medals in Cinfaes it might be best to turn the clock back another 12 months to the last occasion a downhill race was staged.

On that occasion, in the North Macedonian capital Skopje, Italy’s Bernard Dematteis took the honours for his third European mountain running individual title and he also won on a downhill course in 2014 while just missing out in 2016 when he took the silver behind his twin brother Martin.

Although the Dematteis brothers will probably have turned 35 on race day - they celebrate their birthday on 24 May - mountain runners often manage to stay at peak form well into their 30s and theycould still possibly be the men to beat.

Of course, Adkin has to enter consideration as well and so too should the man who finished behind him in Zermatt, Norway’s 22-year-old Stian Øvergaard Aarvik who improved from 15th in 2018 to take the silver medal a year later.

Into the bargain, Great Britain could field a very strong squad in the defence of their men's team title, which they won for the first time in Zermatt, if they can also call upon the services of Andrew Douglas, who took the overall 2019 World Cup title. Douglas was fifth in Skopje two years ago.

However, as always, Italy will be strong contenders for the men’s team title having won it at 22 out of the 25 championships, although two of those occasions when they have not been top of the podium have come in the last three years.

In the women’s race, Mathys will be going for an unprecedented fourth consecutive title – Austria’s Andrea Mayr won three of her titles between 2013-15 after first winning the continental crown in 2005 – and, from a distance, she looks like being the overwhelming favourite after having won by over four minutes in 2018 and then beating the iconic Mayr into second place by more than a minute in 2019.

Mayr is still going strong at the age of 39 but, on a downhill course, the women perhaps best suited to challenging Mathys could be the French pair of Anais Sabrie and Elise Poncet, who were second and sixth respectively in 2018 before dropping back to 12th and 11th in 2019, and who will be 25 and 24 on race day.

Recent history suggests that the women’s team competition could be fought out between Great Britain, France and Italy – the winners in 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively – but Switzerland, who last won the team title in 2007, could also enter the reckoning.

Also, at stake in Cinfaes will be men’s and women’s U20 individual and team titles. The competition was originally known as the European Mountain Running Trophy from 1995-2001 and then came under European Athletics aegis and became the official European Mountain Running Championships in 2002.