Photo: Ken Hill
Kailub Russell heads into Round 7 of the 2015 Grand National Cross Country series held on Sunday in West Virginia at Marvin's Mountain Top with a slight chink in his armor but still plenty of confidence and a lead that has not shrunk all year.
However, the rest of the field now knows he can be beat.
Chris Bach ended Russell's win streak at five, two weeks ago in New York. A veteran rider, Bach's only podium appearance before Round 6 came in the first round when he took third. Prior to his win, Bach was in fifth-place, 81 points behind Russell. Now he's in fourth-place, still far behind Russell, but within striking distance of third and another great race or two of second in the Championship standings.
Josh Strang seemed the likely rider to best Russell as the 2010 Champion ticked off four straight runner-up finishes then a fourth-place and but a rough outing the last time out as he finished 10th in the XC1 class and 227th overall which allowed Russell to extend his lead in the standings. Grant Baylor just missed ending Russell's win streak at four when he battled to the end in Round 5 coming up 20 seconds short. Up to that point, it was the closest anyone had come to taking the checkers from Russell as a two-minute lead was the norm.
With a 57 point advantage halfway through the season, Russell's biggest competition is himself. He's crashed a few times along the way which is one reason he rolled up second to Bach. But he's also rebounded after hitting the dirt and won. As long as he stays healthy, he'll just continue to pound the nails in for a third consecutive Championship. But don't expect him to coast through the remaining rounds. Russell likes winning and he can notch his third-straight win on the Mountain Top with a victory on Sunday.
Last week, Russell, a MotoSport rider, won his first career round in the Kenda AMA National Enduro Series which he also leads in points. He started the year in that series with three straight second-place finishes. He's the only rider to podium every round so with the win he also holds a strong 23 point lead. The National Enduro Series hosts rounds that don't conflict with GNCC so it opens the doors to the pro off-roaders. Grant Baylor, Andrew DeLong, Strang, Ryan Sipes and MotoSport rider Brad Bakken, among others, compete in both series.
GNCC Round 7 is at Marvin's Mountain Top in Masontown, WV. It's got rocky trails featuring a mix of clay and top soil. Riders start at the top of the mountain, work their way down and then come back up. Pro bikes get underway at 1 p.m. (EST) on Sunday.
2015 GNCC Overall National Championship Standings
- Kailub Russell (175) - MotoSport rider
- Josh Strang (118)
- Grant Baylor (108)
- Chris Bach (99)
- Thad DuVall (81)
- Ryan Sipes (72)
- Jason Thomas (65)
- Jordan Ashburn (60)
- Craig DeLong (54)
- Layne Michael (52)