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With less than a month to go before the season’s final cross-country race, DODDS-Europe doesn’t really need a championship preview.

This weekend, it will get one anyway.

Take a look at the collection of talent that will share a starting line Saturday at Stuttgart, Germany.

The boys field starts with defending Division I team champion Kaiserslautern, headlined by new frontrunner Michael Close, alongside 2012 runner-up Patch and ace Mitchell Bailey. It continues with Ramstein’s Josh McDowell of Ramstein, whose time of 16 minutes, 42.72 seconds last Saturday was the best of DODDS-Europe’s opening weekend, and a deep Wiesbaden team that beat Ramstein a week ago and features three of the young season’s top six performers in Alexander Wieman, Kelsey Thomas and Ryan Parker.

Homestanding Baileigh Sessions, meanwhile, looms over the girls race as defending European individual champion and centerpiece of reigning team champ Patch. She reasserted her dominance Sept. 21, posting a time of 20:08.65 that was about 20 seconds faster than anyone else in the opening weekend’s seven races across Europe. But she’ll find some worthy competition in Ramstein senior Madison Morse, a top-10 finisher at Europeans in 2012 and owner of 2013’s fourth-best time to date.

But Patch coach Philip Bailey cautions against reading too much into regular-season times, saying the races “allow each athlete to define their race fitness” and wins and losses in the regular season are “somewhat immaterial.”

Bailey described an interesting process in which his team might test different approaches to see which are most effective. The techniques could include runners attempting to build and maintain a lead throughout, closely “shadowing” another team’s runner, challenging or hanging back on uphill segments, and dividing the race into more-manageable “intervals.” Each of these experiments could noticeably skew a runner’s finishing time and a team’s overall performance.

The four Division I powers – Patch, Kaiserslautern, Ramstein and Wiesbaden – will have opportunities to test their approaches against each other. They’ll share a course for the first time Saturday, and all four will join Baumholder in a five-team meet Oct. 5 at Wiesbaden. Three weeks later, the Warriors will host all of DODDS-Europe for the Oct. 26 European championship race.

While the four centrally-located large schools trade blows, Vilseck and Lakenheath lurk, their geography preventing extended interaction with their Division I opponents.

Vilseck got a look at Kaiserslautern and Patch last weekend, and the Falcon boys acquitted themselves well with a second-place showing to the Panthers. The team will visit Patch on Oct. 12, the only other time it will see regular-season Division I competition.

Lakenheath, as the only Division I team based outside of Germany, will be confined to its familiar – and smaller - regional foes like SHAPE, Menwith Hill, and Alconbury.broome.gregory@stripes.com

Twitter: @broomestripes

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