Five things to watch (including an insane onboard video) ahead of the 2020 GNCC season kicking off this weekend, February 21-23, in South Carolina at Big Buck.
The 2020 Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) season looks set to be one of the hottest contests in recent years. Beginning this weekend, February 21-23, in Union, South Carolina a hot mixture of a defending champion declaring this his last season, a KTM teammate growing in stature to become a genuine title contender plus major rivals jumping on new bikes will make this a fascinating year.
Here are five things to look out for as we head into round one at Big Buck. . .
Kailub Russell’s last full GNCC season
The rider to beat in GNCC is the rider who needs little introduction but who’s aso making this his last. Winner of the GNCC series for the last seven seasons, that’s seven, Kailub Russell adds a twist to the plot this year after announcing pre-season that 2020 would be his last full year in GNCC after 10 years.
Making the announcement pre-season was interesting psychologically. It lays out the stall before the racing begins to avoid any mid-season mind games and it also puts a marker down which tells his rivals he’s going to make it count.
To back that up, Kailub’s 2020 campaign started with a dominant win at the first round of the Kenda Full Gas Sprint Enduro Series an hour or so up the road. Russell was nearly a minute faster than the second rider on day one in the sand there and looked ominous.
The title chasers: Ben Kelley, Thad Duvall and Steward Baylor.
Despite being one of the all-time GNCC greats and rolling into Big Buck with the number one plate on his bike for the seventh season, Kailub Russell won't have things handed to him on a plate.
Major title contenders Thad Duvall and Steward Baylor are joined by the current XC 2 champion and Russell’s KTM teammate, Ben Kelley and all are firmly focused on getting a piece of Kailub’s numberboard.
The XC 2 class was dominated by Kelley in 2019 who won the title with three rounds left before stepping up to XC 1 for the remaining rounds. Riders usually take their time to settle in but Kelley bagged two wins straight away and showed what we can expect this year. He began 2020 with first place at the Sumter National Enduro and begins his GNCC season as a serious contender.
Thad Duvall of course needs little introduction to GNCC fans and has shown he is always a contender, finishing runner-up to Russell during the last three seasons the battles have often been intense. 2019 was arguably Thad’s best and he challenged for the title with four overall wins before a knee injury with two rounds left ended his title hopes.
Steward Baylor will be looking to give Sherco and the FactoryONE Team their first GNCC win not just at round one in his native soil but throughout 2020. Consistency is the key, as Russell has proved so many times and that must be the key for Stew Baylor to be a real threat for the title.
That’s not to mention Josh Strang, Ricky Russell, Andrew Delong, Josh Toth and more. Sadly Trevor Bollinger will not line-up at round one after a knee injury during pre-season.
The gruelling South Carolina soil at Big Buck
The Big Buck GNCC traditionally throws everything at riders in one round: from tight woods, to wide open fields, creek crossings and technical uphills.
The South Carolina soil has something unique about it too – some say slick like clay when wet but like sand when dry. The course also gets rough during the race so having your lines dialled is crucial.
Go for a wild onboard ride with Stew Baylor:
The forecast for the weekend looks sunny so the riders who raced the National Enduro and Full Gas Sprint Enduro opening rounds in February should find conditions similar.
That includes most of the leading contenders across the classes but not least a rider who makes a habit of winning at Big Buck, South Carolina native Steward Baylor.
Aussie blood in XC 2
ISDE Junior Trophy fastest rider, Lyndon Snodgrass has moved to the States alongside hugely experienced Josh Strang (in XC1) to race the full GNCC season and brings a fresh blood to the XC2 250 Pro class. With less than two months on American soil, Snodgrass has already made his mark with a win at the first round of the Full Gas Sprint Enduro Series.
Craig Delong, Mike Witowski and Johnny Girroir (back in action) all have to tools to show Snodgrass the way in the long, 13 round GNCC season.
Hottest rider to watch could well be the reigning XC3 125 champion, Jess Ansley who steps up to the 250 Pro class with some form on the Trail Jesters KTM.
Old favourites return for 2020
2020 will see the return of the Mountain Ridge GNCC for the first time since 2015 for round six. Held in Somerset, Pennsylvania, a traditional hard pack off road track awaits the riders at Windmill Park and will mark quite a change, ensuring the series tests riding skills across America’s hugely varied terrain.
After a seven-year hiatus the series will also host a round in the Bluegrass State of Kentucky. The Gladiator GNCC promises to throw a broad range of rolling hills and virgin trails for round seven.
Watch all the races live: RacerTV.com
More information: GNCC.com
Photo Credit: Ken Hill + Shan MooreThe Team @ Enduro21jon.email@example.com