2019 Steele Creek GNCC Race Report
Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Thad Duvall made a last-lap pass on series point leader Kailub Russell to win round 3 of the 2019 AmsOil Grand National Cross Country Series, the Steele Creek GNCC in Morganton, North Carolina. The win was Duvall’s first of the season and it bolted him right back into the championship chase after taking disappointing third-place finishes at the opening two rounds.
At the start of the race, FMF KTM Factory Racing’s Russell grabbed the holeshot to lead the XC1 Pro class into the woods for the first lap, during which Russell would hold on to a 2.68-second lead over Duvall and Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Trevor Bollinger. Throughout the day, Duvall, Russell, and Bollinger battled over the lead position, with each rider going from first to third multiple times.
On the final lap, Duvall rounded a corner to find Russell stuck in a mud hole. Duvall was able to go up on a bank to avoid the mud, taking over the lead before Russell could free himself from the mud. With only miles to go, Duvall and Russell engaged in a heated battle, but as the checkered flag flew it was Duvall coming through first, just two seconds ahead of Russell.
“Two years in a row I was able to make the pass on the last lap—just lucky,” Duvall said. “I knew there’s a mud hole every year that gets super, super bad toward the end of the race. I went and looked at it and it wasn’t that bad. Then I went back this morning and just had a gut feeling that it would get really bad. So I cleaned out a line that went up on the bank and then bypassed the mud hole. Lucky enough I came the last lap and I saw Kailub there and I just went up on the bank where my line was and went right back down. It worked out awesome. I’m glad I went there and found a line. It’s just one of those things where you just kind of learn the bad spots over the years and just go from there.”
“I was just biding my time there at the beginning,” Russell said. “There on the last lap I had pulled out about 20 seconds, pretty much on cruise control. I came around the turn and knew it was kind of going to be bad, but there’s guys just sitting on the track. I just picked a bad line and tried to get around a guy and I got hung up. Then by the time Thad got there, the guy that was kind of in front of me was a little bit gone. Thad pulled out, so I gave it a good effort and I caught back up and just [had] nowhere to get the job done. I couldn’t make a pass.”
Bollinger ended up with an impressive third-place finish, while Tely Energy Racing KTM's Steward Baylor Jr. finished in the number four spot after battling throughout the day with fellow XC1 Open Pro competitors.
In the XC2 250 Pro class, Ben Kelley grabbed the holeshot at the start, and never looked back. Kelley would hold on to the lead, gapping the field by four minutes. As the three-hour race came to a conclusion, the Trail Jesters KTM rider would take his third consecutive XC2 250 Pro class win of the season. Trail Jesters KTM/MCS Racing/SSR Rider Development’s Jonathan Girroir would finish second in XC2, while Beta USA’s Mike Witkowski was third.
Highland Temp Works/Offroad Riding Schools/Maxxis’ Jason Thomas grabbed the holeshot to start the FMF XC3 125 Pro-Am class. However, it was Beta USA’s Cody Barnes who was able to make the pass for the lead one on the fifth lap, stretching his lead until the finish. The win marked Barnes’ second consecutive FMF XC3 class win of the season. Trail Jesters KTM’s Jesse Ansley claimed second, with Thomas finishing third.