With the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Chia only a fortnight away, it was a weekend of glory for defending champions, past champions and those who could become champions.
Switzerland’s Fabienne Schlumpf might be better known for her exploits in the 3000m steeplechase but in Tilburg on Sunday, she produced a brilliant performance to triumph by three seconds over 8km at the Warandeloop, a European Athletics Cross Country Permit race.
An Olympic finallist in Rio this summer just a few weeks after finishing fifth at the European Athletics Championships in Amsterdam, Schlumpf, 26, took control to win in 27:16 from Germany’s Anna Gehring (27:19), the Netherlands’ Elizeba Cherono (27:24), Eva Vrabcova (27:47), of the Czech Republic, and Germany’s Julia Bleasdale fifth (27:52).
There is no doubt the senior women’s race in Sardinia on 11 December will be hard to predict such is the strength of the field and should Schlumpf be on the start line, she will now be a main contender.
The same can be said for Norway’s Sondre Nordstad Moen, who won the men’s 10km race in Tilburg in 29:58 from Denmark’s Abdi Hakin Ulad (30:00) and Sweden’s Napoleon Solomon (30:01).
Talking of how tough a race the senior’s women event will be in Italy, the field will include Belgium's Louise Carton, the defending Euro Cross under-23 champion.
Still 22, Carton achieved another fine win on Sunday over 6.25km at the CrossCup van West-Vlaanderen and then revealed she is stepping up a level for the championships themselves.
Carton said: 'I am very happy with this victory. It’s encouraging for the European Championships. 'I want to run with the seniors at the European Championships in Chia. I want to show in the highest category I can.'
She is in great shape to make an impact after winning in 21:03 from Romania’s Ancuta Bobocel (21:23) on a day her fellow Belgian Isaac Kimeli (28:09) won the senior men’s 9.4km race from Jeroen D’Hoedt (28:11) and Souffiane Bouchiki (28:22).
It is a big year for both Kimeli and Carton in this Cross Cup series as they are both chasing the overall title for the third time in a row.
Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack will also surely be in the mix in Chia as she looks to win the sixth Euro Cross medal of her career.
The individual champion in 2011 and 2012 warmed up in prolific fashion on Sunday in Alcobendas when she won by 38 seconds over 8.06km at the Cross Internacional de la Constitucion in 28:18 to beat Ethiopians Etenesh Diro (28:56) and Trihas Gebre (29:31).
It was a stunning run from McCormack, who won team bronze in Hyères, and while it might be four years since she took the individual crown, she cannot be ruled out with performances such as these.
At the same time in Dublin, the Irish Cross Country Championships were taking place where Shona Heaslip (28:13) won at 8km in the senior women’s race and Mark Christie took the senior men’s 10km (30:41).
Great Britain’s Gemma Steel has seven Euro Cross medals, including being the senior women’s champion in 2014, and she booked her spot in Chia with victory at the official trials in Liverpool on Saturday.
It was close but it was enough as Steel won the 8.1km race by a second in 27:11 from Charlotte Arter with Rebecca Murray (27:13) in third and Katrina Wootton in fourth (27:13).
'It was very important to win this race and I believe I belong in this team and I am looking forward to racing at the Euro Cross,' Steel told British Athletics as she celebrated winning this race for the fourth consecutive time.
Andrew Butchart will be a contender, too, in the men’s senior event in Chia after he won the 9.8km at this Liverpool Cross Challenge in 28:37 to beat Callum Hawkins (28:45) and Andy Vernon (29:01).
Sixth in the 5000m final at the Olympics in Rio, Butchart is peaking at the right time again and he said: 'I was really happy to pull off the win today.'
Fellow Briton Jonny Davies, 22, won the European under-23 title in Hyères and he will be back to defend crown that in Chia after finishing 11th in this senior race in Liverpool but once again, first in his age category.
In Osimo, the Cross Valmusone was another big test for Italy’s runners wanting to make the team for their home Eurocross and Andrea Sanguinetti won the men’s 10km (30:08) with Federica Dal Ri victorious in the women’s 6km (23:45).
Leffrinckoucke staged a European Athletics Cross Country Permit race on Sunday where there were victories for young Ethiopians Selemon Barega, who won the men’s senior race at 9.3km (26:12), and Beyenu Degefa (21:48), in the women’s senior over 6.86km in 21:48, where Laurane Picoche was the top French finisher in seventh (23:06) with teammate and 2013 Eurocross champion Sophie Duarte in 10th (23:17).