ailub Russell took a giant step toward claiming a sixth-consecutive GNCC title by winning a hard-fought battle at this weekend’s AmsOil Grand National Cross Country Series opener at Big Buck Farm in Union, South Carolina. The FMF KTM Factory rider edged Thad Duvall for the overall win, leading the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing-backed West Virginian across the finish line by a just few feet.

En route to his win, Kailub Russell had to overcome a nasty crash on the opening lap, which left him sitting in last place. “About a quarter-mile into the race, I went to grab my Camelbak to get a drink and I hit a tree, dropping me from fourth to last,” Russell said. “I was riding kind of tight and it was kind of hard to pass on that first lap, and any time I would work up to pass someone I would get in with a lapper and I ended up having a few big crashes, which set me back.”Photo by Darrin Chapman

Duvall led much of the race after moving into the top spot midway into the opening lap. Russell, however, took control of the race on the final lap and managed to hold off the hard-charging Duvall to claim the first victory of the season.

Local boy Steward Baylor, who won the Big Buck race last year, also had his turn at the front of the pack. The Tely Energy KTM rider, however, eventually settled into the third-place slot after taking an errant rock to the face. Meanwhile, Trevor Bollinger turned in his best-ever performance in the GNCC series, putting his JRC Honda into fourth ahead of Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Josh Strang.

After leading on the opening lap, Thad Duvall settled into a steady, consistent pace until midway into the final lap. At that point, the West Virginia rider gave it all he had in an effort to catch Russell. “Kailub got by me on the last lap and I could tell by his posture he was ready to push, so I latched onto him and we both started charging,” Duvall said. “I really wanted to win, and I tried everything on the last lap, but he just outran me at the end.”Photo by Darrin Chapman

Last year’s XC2 Pro class champion Josh Toth picked up where he left off in 2017 by winning the XC2 Pro class at the Big Buck. Toth’s ride was also good enough for sixth overall. Seventh overall and second in the XC2 Pro division went to Trail Jesters KTM’s Ben Kelley, who finished the three-hour race eight seconds behind Toth.

Eighth and ninth went to Coastal Racing Husqvarna teammates Layne Michael and Austrian Pascal Rauchenecker. Michael was making his first XC1 appearance, while Rauchenecker— a World Enduro “regular”— will be staying in the States this year to contest the entire GNCC series. Austin Lee rounded out the top 10 on a Honda.

Steward Baylor kept the two frontrunners in sight until a rock from Duvall’s rear tire hit him in the mouth, chipping three of his front teeth. “I was going up the hill climb and the rock hit me just right under the helmet,” Baylor said. “It busted out a few teeth and I had a pretty bad headache for the rest of the race. Let’s just say I won’t be eating anything but ice cream for a few days.”Photo by Darrin Chapman

2018 AmsOil GNCC Overall Point Standings

1. Kailub Russell (KTM) 30
2. Thad Duvall (Husqvarna) 25
3. Steward Baylor (KTM) 21
4 Trevor Bollinger (Honda) 18
5. Josh Strang (Husqvarna) 16
6. Josh Toth (KTM) 15
7. Ben Kelley (KTM) 14
8. Layne Michael (Husqvarna) 13
9. Pascal Rauchenecker (Husqvarna) 12
10. Austin Lee (Honda) 11
Trevor Bollinger claimed his best-ever GNCC finish with a fourth overall. “I’m pleased with how I rode today; I think that’s the best I’ve ridden in the GNCC series,” Bollinger said. “I don’t have much experience running up front, and I think that hurt me a bit today, but for the first four laps I felt like I was in contention. The four of us pulled away from the rest of the pack, but with two laps to go I lost touch with those guys.”Photo by Darrin Chapman
Despite still suffering from the effects of a foot injury he sustained last year, Josh Strang rounded out the top five on his Rockstar Energy Husqvarna. Strang claimed the holeshot to start the race.Photo by Darrin Chapman
After getting off to a top-five start, FMF KTM’s Josh Toth moved quickly into the lead and held on for the win after a brief battle with Trail Jesters KTM Racing’s Ben Kelley. “I tried to keep the momentum going from last year,” Toth said. “I had confidence coming into this year, and I got a pretty good start and just worked my way into the lead. Once I got into the lead I was able to set a pace and I felt pretty comfortable there.”Photo by Darrin Chapman
GasGas FAR Racing’s Andrew Delong just missed out on a top-10 finish at the Big Buck, putting his XC300 into 11th place. “I’m still not 100 percent with the bike,” Delong said. “It’s been a long time since I raced a two-stroke in a GNCC, so I just kept it in my comfort zone since the course was a little sketchy. The course was rough and fast, and there were a lot of square-edged bumps, big holes, and small chop, which made for a good opportunity to work on suspension settings. We’re still sorting things out, but I think we came away with some good options for the next race. Overall, it was a pretty solid day—no get-offs and no problems. It was basically a situation where I was just trying to get more seat time. I’m not happy with the finish, but I’m satisfied with what we learned out there.”Photo by Darrin Chapman
Delong’s GasGas teammate Nick Davis got off to an impressive start, leaping off the line in third place on his 2018 XC250 before making his way into second. Davis rode a fast and steady pace until a nasty crash on lap 2 took the wind out of the Pennsylvania rider’s sails and sent him to the pits. “Unfortunately, I had a pretty good get-off on the second lap when I hit a tree root and I took a handle bar in the gut,” he said. “I went to the pits after that but I was able to get going again and work my way back into 17th. It wasn’t what I was looking for, but under the circumstances I’ll take it. We were running up front until I crashed, so at least I know I have the speed. My GasGas XC 250 was working really good and I was in the groove until I went down.”Photo by Darrin Chapman
Kori Steede finished a solid fifth place in a highly competitive Women’s WXC division despite suffering several tip-overs. “My first two laps I was just trying to get the hang of the track and get the hang of the new bike,” Steede said. “It was my first big-bike race, and overall I felt pretty good for my first ride. I made a few mental mistakes that I need to work on, but I’m pretty happy with my fifth place against a good group of girls. I didn’t know what to expect coming into the race, and the track got pretty rough and I got tired, but I had fun.”Photo by Darrin Chapman
After the dust settled, Thad Duvall (left), Kailub Russell (center), and Steward Baylor graced the XC1 Pro podium.Photo by Darrin Chapman