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Lahti beats Carton on the road to Chia

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It is just over a month until the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Chia and Sweden's Sarah Lahti has arguably had the best preparation possible.

Never mind what lies underfoot at this time of year - athletes expect the terrain to be hard or soft, muddy or flat, hilly and tricky - it is what goes on in the mind that can be as important.

Eleven months ago in Hyères, Lahti was sixth at the Euro Cross as Belgium's Louise Carton won the under-23 crown in a brilliant winter.

But on Sunday in Mol, it was a different story.

In a race over 5.5km, Lahti gained a major psychological advantage with Chia so close as she beat home star Carton by nine seconds with a fine performance, finishing first in 18:27 with Switzerland's Fabienne Schlumpf in third (18:38).

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However 2016 ends, it has been a major, breakthrough year for Lahti, who turned 21 in February.

She was ninth in the 10,000m at the European Athletics Championships in Amsterdam in 32:14.17 and then a few weeks later, her 12th place in the Olympics in Rio came in a national record time of 31:28.43.

The SPAR European Cross Country Championships are set to take place on 11 and Lahti will surely take only positives from beating Carton, 22, who won over the 5.94km course in Hyères in 19:46.

In the 9.2km men's race on Sunday, Belgian runners took second, third and fourth as Kenyan Alex Kibet (27:29) won ahead of Bashir Abdi (27:41), Souffiane Bouchiki (27:58) and Jeroen D’Hoedt (28:04).

All results now point towards Chia, with so many athletes looking to run their best to earn team selections.

Levico Terme was the setting for the second stage of Italy's qualification for the championships with the 6th Cross della Valsugana where Abdoullah Bamoussa won the men's race over 9km (28:41) from Alberto Della Pasqua (28:56) and Silvia Oggioni took the women's 7km in 25:11.

Once more Turkey dominated as 13 nations took part in the 60th Balkan Cross Country Championships in Cuprija, Serbia.

They have, of course, the defending men's senior European cross country champion in Ali Kaya and over 10km here, Ramazan Ozdemir (30:11) beat team-mates Tuncer Omer (30:20) and Demir Alper (30:23) to show how competitive selection will be for that team.

But in the women's senior race (8km), it was not a Turkish triumph, with victory going to Romania's Ancuta Bobocel (27:05) from Turkey's Eytemis Sevilay (27:11) and another Romanian, Roxana Birca (27:14), with Serbian Amela Terzic in sixth (27:45).

Outside of that race, Turkey secured victories in five of the six events with the under-23 champions being Suat Karabulak (8km, 24:43) and Fatma Demir (6km, 20:35) and the under-20 titles going to Ramazan Barbaros (6km, 18:07) and Gulnaz Uskun (4km, 13:49).

Spain's Ayad Lamdassem is a regular at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships - and a regular on the podium too.

Silver medallist in the senior race in Albufeira in 2010, he was part of the team which took gold last year and he is warming up in style on the roads as he showed in Santander on Sunday by winning at the 22nd edition of Carrera Popular Costa de Ajo.

In a race over 6.2km, Lamdassem triumphed in the men' race in 18:04 with fellow Spaniard Solanga Pereira (2.7km, 8:35) securing victory in the women's event.

Staying in Spain, there was cross country success for home runners Jose Espana (9km, 29:28) and Maria del mar Casillas (30:10) at the 32nd Cross del Aceite in Jaen.