Aquarius 22, 2077, m24
Heavy winds delayed yesterday's start for the men's Stage 2 race. Runners waited impatiently in a staging vehicle before the winds died down and officials were able to give the all-clear to race at Calydon Fossa.
The course: a 250 km track along the long shallow depression, ending with a climb up the plateau to the middle of Lus Chasma. Though it is a much smoother terrain with a designated path, wind and inconsistent surface conditions increased the difficulty of this otherwise straightforward stage.
All 45 runners dawned their blades for the challenge and made a clean, fast start from the gate at 10:30.
Based on pre-race trials, Thomas Pederson (Tiangong), Evan Silva (Marineris), Samual Gates (Eurpoa), and Hakim Ramsey (Marineris) rank as the strongest endurance runners, but fresh off the momentum of Noctis Labyrinthus, Pachehra (Europa), Shannon (HDX) and El-Morad (Al'amal) took the early lead.
Shortly after checkpoint 3 at 75 km, Daniel Kwan (Marineris) lost balance from a gust of wind and crashed into fellow Marineris runner, Clayton Mitchell. The two tumbled to the ground as others quickly manoeuvred around or over them. Both men were uninjured, but a frustrated Mitchell walked off and did not return to the race. Kwan did resume running, however, after 1 km, he too withdrew from the race, claiming he had hit the wall.
El-Morad (Al'amal), Pederson (Tiangong), Pylpoovych (KHM) and Zhuan (Haucheng) gained distance from the main pack. Zhuan held a narrow lead in 1st position at checkpoint 5.
On multiple occasions, strong headwinds forced runners to stop. For some, this was a welcome unscheduled break.
By the halfway point, Evan Silva had taken the lead and Stage 1 winner, Pandehra (Europa) was able to manoeuvre into 2nd position.
Rura Misra (San Olympus) withdrew at the 157 km mark suffering from cramps.
In the final 25 km of the race, Zhaun had a second wind, fighting back from 4th potion to take Stage 2 a time of 8 hours, 8 minutes.
Panderha held on for second with Rafeeq Afzal (Al'amal) at his heals crossing the line just 15 seconds after. Afzal, who came in last on the Noctis Labyrinthus course expressed surprise at his own performance.
"This is an incredible result for me," Afzal said, "It's hard to gauge your chances when you barely survive the first round, so this is a huge confidence-builder for Stage 3."
The last stretch heading into Lus Chasma claimed the most casualties on the course, including frontrunner Evan Silva who collapsed from exhaustion midway through his ascent. Thomas Pedersen who was in the top 10 for much of the race also had to withdraw when one of his blades broke at the 228 km mark. A total of 9 runners were scratched when all was said and done, leaving 38 competitors for Stage 3.