Jonathan Balzan and Carmen Hili look poised to take overall honours in the 19th International Malta Challenge Marathon as they head into today's final stage with a commanding lead over their nearest rivals in their respective categories after yesterday's second stage held in Birzebbuga.

In the men's race, Balzan was beaten to the post by his direct rival Barry Stoddart in an exciting final sprint in yesterday's 6km race.

Britain's Stoddart clocked 20.09... just one second ahead of Balzan. British Army Group member Christopher Walsh was third in 21.07.

In the overall standings, Balzan is leading with a combined time of 58.35 minutes... a comfortable 57 seconds ahead of Stoddart who has an aggregate time of 59.32.

Walsh is third on one hour one minute and 25 seconds.

Hili has reconfirmed her dominance in the women's race after she chalked up her second successive stage win after crossing the finish line first in Birzebbuga.

The St Patrick athlete completed yesterday's race in 24.18 to finish ahead of British duo Charmaine Scribbins (25.29) and Lesley Rander (26.09).

By virtue of yesterday's win, Hili has now extended her lead in the overall charts over English runner Scribbins to four minutes 24 seconds and is firm favourite to take the overall title for a second successive year.

Hili has a combined time of 1:10.28 while Scribbins is on 1:14.52. Rander is third on 1:17.47.

The three-day Challenge Marathon comes to a close today with the final stage, a 25km race that takes the participating athletes from St Paul's Bay to Freedom's Square in Valletta.

Today's race starts at 7 a.m.

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