So after a solid couple weeks of prep I was feeling good and ready. The Tallboy was all shined up and looking good as well.
Both Ryan and Marshall were racing too, and beforehand I was trying to think if there was any way we could benefit from "team tactics" so to speak. But really this race was just going to be a situation of chasing Levi and we all knew it. Mitigate the damage on the climbs and hammer the tech sections and try to make up ground.
It started off with the usual fast paced road start which was MUCH more well behaved this year than last. No need to swerve into oncoming lanes to avoid cars even! The pace seemed faster from the get-go which helped filter out some people that shouldn't be at the front. And for me it went by very quickly, I wasn't struggling like normal and still felt like I had some kick when I could finally see the dirt at the end of the road. So I sprinted up and entered the dirt in 3rd behind Levi and Glen Fant (I think). I red-lined up the first few climbs and chose to dial it back a bit and recover. So I got passed by a few, but managed to get back into third by the first descent down Cobblestone, this time with Colin Daw in 2nd.
We were a bit spread out so I was all by myself for the next road section and undulating singletrack. I lost a few seconds when I lost focus and my back tire kicked off a rock and sent my front wheel into a tree. Thankfully it was slow and I didn't go over... it was just one of those "HEY! PAY ATTENTION!" reminders from the trail. I could see Colin in the clearings up the next climb and he had about 30 seconds on me. But by the bottom of the South Burma climb (after some good DH sections, about mile 13) I had narrowed the gap down to maybe five seconds. Once we finally reached the top of the long Lawndale downhill I was right on him, unfortunately I didn't realize THIS was the top of Lawndale. I should have gone for the pass but I didn't know it was the crucial spot. Once I realized where we were, I didn't push the issue and sat in, figuring Levi was long gone anyways and the race was for 2nd.
We took on the neutral water bottles from Camelbak and cruised Lawndale road together over to the Schulz climb where Colin sprinted to get in front. We stayed together and when the climbing got rough and steep about half way up, I was feeling a little held up. So I went for it where it opened up and as I got beside Colin I was in some loose rock and slipping out, expending too much energy trying to make the pass. He looked over, saw that and attacked. He quickly got a big gap while I needed to recover and suddenly I was all alone. Frustrated... I picked the pace back up for Ridge trail, which is a technical undulating trail perfect for the Tallboy. I still couldn't see Colin in the winding trees so my goal changed from trying to get 2nd to getting a sub-two hour finish time. Suddenly I popped out of the singletrack and onto the final fire-road descent and I could see Colin up ahead! I opened it up as much as I could, just taking the straight line over the rocks and soaking them up. The sun/shade mix in the trees made the rocks hard to distinguish in the dust, so I had a few rim-strikes to the ENVE's but thankfully no flats and no damage. I didn't quite catch Colin but still ended up with a time almost a minute under two hours and good enough for 3rd (about 3 1/2 minutes back from Levi).