Okay, it's time. Time, that is, for the oft-imitated never-duplicated fully-comprehensive 100%-authoritative BigWillyStyle SART preview. This is the gas-guzzling, oil-leaking, armored-plated Cadillac boat-tank of SART previews. First, the stages:
Time Trial: College Place Schools - Never been here!
Round 1, Lynndale Park: The committee know this place. Lynndale is a rugged and wooded park with plenty of trails and variable runnability in the forest, though it's generally thicker than not. There's also a school, which has apparently been completely redone since last time the committee was there, so who knows what that's like. We characterize the venue as 60% forest, 30% park, 10% urban.
Round 2, Edmonds CC: Never been here!
Round 3, Lynnwood Golf Course: Never been here!
Rounds 4/5: South Seattle College: Never been here!
Well, mailed that in. You're welcome. Second, the players:
The women's side looks to be a three-way American tossup between Tori Borish, Siri Christopherson, and Julia Doubson. Tori is always formidable in a sprint, while the two juniors have shown cracking form this year and are both currently gearing up for XC season. Julia impressed at this year's WOC/JWOC Team Trials sprint, winning handily, while Siri has been training with more quality of late than just about anybody this side of Peguerinos. The committee's rudimentary math skills tell us that 3! = 6; none of the six outcomes appears appreciably more likely than any other. Let the dice roll.
On the men's side, the competition looks similar to last year, though a name or two or three deeper through the top 10-15. Most notably we've got no J this time around, ergo no prohibitive favorite, so things should be interesting at the top. We've swapped out regular-sized Canuck Ian for the BFG version, while GVOC stalwarts Nate "NBD" Barrett and "Preying" Mantas Jarusevicius are also AWOL. However, finishers 3-6 and 8-9 from SART 2016 will be present and accounted for - those being Messrs. Woods, Rennie, Enger, Bone, Smith, B. and Jones, E. Gentlemen and scholars, all.
But those cats are passé by now - what's new and exciting? The top dark horse candidate who may surprise: Canadian junior David Bakker. Winning could be a tough ask, but the committee's proprietary predictilator formula gives the young SAGE product a coin flip's chance to crack the final and bump one of the more
complacent established contenders. Other newcomers - and oldcomers - with top-10 potential: Peteris Ledins (returning from a summer in Latvia), Mark Prior (Bay Area adventure racer/MTBer extraordinaire), Thomas Laraia (Minnesota JWOCer, younger brother of Michael).
Finally, the predictions (in descending order):
15. Vladimir "Galloping" Gusiatnikov
14. "Cobra" Kai Mihata
13. Tori "Showtime" Borish
12. Julia "Child" Doubson
11. Mark "Not the Cubs Pitcher" Prior
Mark easily has the speed for a higher placement, but we've received intelligence that familial obligations may prevent him from running all Rounds, so he gets dinged for that potential unpredictability. Kai continues to improve, while Vlad turns in a second consecutive top-15 finish.
10. Siri "Don't Call Me Tyra" Christopherson
9. Eric "Jonesaw" Jones
8. Peteris "Pan" Ledins
7. Thomas "Laraia Part Deux" Laraia
6. Eric "Bonesaw" Bone
Again, any of the top three women absolutely has the ability to break into the top 10, but the strength and depth of the field this year may make it difficult for more than one to realize that potential. Siri gets the nod here based on a comparison of recent training. Here we also have three reliable CascadeOC mainstays, and an excellent performance by Laraia the younger. Side note: "Big" Ben Smith would also feature prominently in here somewhere, but we've received word that he's skipping the early races and will therefore be out of the running for the big money.
5. David "Ricken" Bakker
4. Will "Just Happy To Be Here" Enger
3. Graeme "Blade" Rennie (AKA Graembo)
2. Ian "True" Collings (AKA The Virginian)
1. Adam "Tiger" Woods
The final will be dominated by Canadians, plus an Honorary Canadian. Graembo finally manages to not finish fourth in something, while David surprises by earning a spot in the final. Ian has the best speed in the field and is deadly as sin in an unforked race, but he won't be able to bring his full power to bear in a hectic butterfly-looped final. Which is why Adam takes home the giant bracket as the runner with the best combination of youth, fitness, and technical experience and skill.