The opening round of the 2020 Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) Series presented by Specialized, an AMA National Championship, took place last weekend on February 22nd and 23rd. Big Buck has been on the series schedule since 1997, and is a classic GNCC course. It is an open and fast course, but don’t mistake that for being an easy one – it gets plenty rough! The soil is an interesting mix of silt and clay. It is not nearly as sandy as Camp Coker, the other South Carolina GNCC round, but it isn’t the full-on red Georgia clay seen at the General either.
Despite rain early in the week, conditions at Big Buck were the best I’ve seen in years. While there was a bit of standing water in the low spots, the dirt was tacky almost everywhere else. The corners bermed up perfectly and hitting the banked corners at speed was almost like being on a roller coaster. The women’s turnout at Big Buck was incredible – there were 95 total, the most we’ve seen since starting the women’s race reports. Of those, Hannah Hunter and Becca Sheets were the winners in the premier WXC classes.
In the ATV WXC race, Angel Magee pulled the holeshot, with Traci Pickens and Hannah Hunter close behind. Actually, pretty much everyone was close behind – there was less than thirty seconds separating the top seven riders at the end of lap one. Pickens took an alternate line up a hill climb in an attempt to pass Magee, but was instead passed by Hunter, who also passed Magee soon after. At the next two-line section, Pickens and Kassidy Williams were able to pass Magee as well.
On the second lap Hunter and Pickens set a blisteringly fast pace, gapping Williams, who had moved into third, by well over a minute. Sadiee Gorrell, Morgan Solesbee, Angel Magee, and Katelyn Osburn all remained close to Williams, with the five of them battling it out for the final podium position. The rest of the field was down by a substantial margin.
Things really started to get interesting during the gas stop. Hunter and Pickens came into the pits neck and neck. The pit crews fueled both riders as quickly as they could. Pickens’ crew was able to get her our just a bit faster than Hunter. Even after the pit stop the second pack still remained close together heading into the last lap, although they had collectively fallen even further behind the leaders.
On the final lap Gorrell was able to pass and break away from Magee and Solesbee, catching back up to Osburn. Osburn and Gorrell then caught back up to Williams. Unfortunately, near the end of the last lap, Osburn and Williams got tangled up and crashed, taking them both out of the race. This cleared the way for Gorrell to take third place, while Magee was fourth and Solesbee was fifth. Sydney Sams took a respectable sixth place finish in her WXC debut, Rileigh Gerges took seventh in what was also her first WXC event, while class veteran Jaida Philips placed eighth. Williams and Osburn still finished ninth and tenth respectively, although they were both a lap down due to their crash.
Gorrell was happy she had managed to work her way up to a podium spot after a race where she had been as far back as seventh: “I was actually in seventh going into the last lap, but I put my head down and pushed as hard as I could. I got around Morgan [Solesbee] and Angel [Magee], then Katelyn [Osburn] and I caught up to Kassidy [Williams]. The two of them got tangled up and I got around them, finishing third for the day. I'm definitely happy with my third place finish!"
Meanwhile, the battle for the win was still going strong between Pickens and Hunter, who had been within seconds of each other the entire race. Although Pickens held the advantage going into the final lap, a poor line choice gave Hunter just enough of an edge to squeeze by and take the lead. Hunter took the win, edging out Pickens by less than one second after a full two hours of racing. When asked about her race, Hunter said “On the last lap I was able to pass for the lead. I knew it wasn't over and tried to ride smart until I crossed the finish line. I'm super pumped on the bike this year and thanks to all my sponsors."
Pickens seemed to enjoy the race saying, “The track conditions were prime which made for awesome racing. I can't express how proud I am of Hannah... I still remember years ago when she was a shy girl who came to my house for a riding lesson, and it's amazing to me how far she has matured in her racing skills over the past few years. I'm happy I had a front row seat to her first win of 2020!"
Anna Nicely, from Roachdale, Indiana was the winner in the Girls class. She had an impressive five-minute lead over the runner-up Skyler Smith. Rounding out the podium was Mikina Maynard. Andrea Rodgers, last year’s Girls Class champion made the move up to the adult race this season and took home the win in Women’s Amateur.
In the Micro ATV race, Khyler Davis was the top finishing girl, taking the overall win! She was followed by Raelynn Dickerson (22nd), Ashynn Ostrich (26th) and Aryanna Neville (30th).
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