Ben Kelley takes a textbook win at The General GNCC Rnd3
Three rounds into the 2022 Grand National Cross Country series season and Ben Kelley has taken his third victory, putting on a riding clinic to seal a KTM one-two ahead of Josh Toth at The General GNCC.
Rain in the days prior to the race, cold, mud, roots and ruts made for very different track conditions compared to last week in Florida at round three of the GNCC season in Washington, Georgia.
The final result die was cast from the start of this third date of 2022 when Josh Toth got off the line first ahead of Trevor Bollinger and Ben Kelley sat in third on the opening lap.
Within the first hour, the KTM duo swapped positions a few times before the defending champion Kelley finally made a pass for the lead on lap three.
From there it was simply a case of ticking off the laps faster than all of his rivals to pull a comfortable gap and seal the third win of the year i nwhat looked like a cross country riding clinic.
“I’m feeling good and everything has been clicking so far, I think I learned a lot from last year.” Says Ben of his third straight win of 2022. “It was a gnarly race out there today and I wasn’t really sure about my lines but it ended up working out.
“I started in third and we were just freight-training on the first lap – I was following those guys and Josh had a crash, so I moved into second. Josh snuck by me and got out front and I got back into second and it was cool, it felt like XC2 days.
“He caught a loose rock on a downhill, so I got a freebie pass and got around him. I was able to slowly pull a gap on lap five and just maintain it from there.”
The General GNCC Pro class top 20 results:
Where’d everyone go?
The XC1 Open Pro class rider entry list totalled just 10 riders – and two of those were guest riders from the UK. It’s a sorry fact of the first three rounds this GNCC season that riders like Steward Baylor, Josh Strang and Thad Duvall are all watching from the side lines or couches as the Ben Kelley show rolls on. It takes nothing away from the way Ben is riding but he’s getting an easier time of it that’s for sure.
Just seven days after a tough race in Florida where Josep Garcia was the second placed rider for KTM, Josh Toth pulled off his best GNCC results of the season and made it a KTM one-two on the podium.
Putting the pieces together for a complete race result, despite getting caught up in some ruts early on, Josh held the lead for the early laps and for a majority of the first hour. Kelley made the move on lap three and Toth kept his head down to hold on despite coming under pressure from Craig DeLong in the final lap.
“It felt awesome to be back up there riding with Ben.” Explains Josh. “I got off to a great jump and just rode my own race. I made a mistake on lap one and they got away but I just started following their lines to see where they were going – it was mayhem with all the ruts on lap one. I didn’t know what to expect coming into this weekend, I was exhausted but I rode my own race, gave it everything I had and I’m stoked to be in second.”
“It’s starting to click” – DeLong’s maiden XC1 podium
Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Craig DeLong took a career-first podium in the XC1 Open Pro class at the General.
DeLong struggled out the blocks and was P7 on the first lap among the fighting pack. The former XC2 champion picked it up as the race progressed to reach fourth by the second lap and contest the podium spot with his Husky teammate Trevor Bollinger who also had a good start.
As Bollinger faded into the pack, DeLong moved up to third by the halfway point and didn’t let up with a bid for the second place on the final lap. He eventually closed within eight seconds of Toth in P2.
“I felt good,” DeLong said. “I had a slow start so I played catch-up and finally got riding good into the second lap. I hooked up with Trevor and we were going back-and-forth for a good bit before I got around him.
“I kind of rode by myself three-quarters of the way through the race and I was getting pit boards that I was closing in on Toth so I put my head down on that last lap and had a lot of fun. I wish I had started my charge a little sooner but you live and you learn, so I’m happy. I know I can run with these guys now, and I have the confidence moving forward, it’s starting to click now.”
Three from three for Witkowski in XC2 Pro
The fight for the XC2 class was an intense one at the third GNCC round. Mike Witkowski continues to be the runaway championship leader – that’s three from three for the AmPro Yamaha rider now – but Lyndon Snodgrass and Ryder Lafferty took turns to push Mike all the way.
The trio pushed right up the leaderboard with Witkowksi and Snodgrass finishing fourth and fifth overall.
Steve Holcombe brought a conclusion to his three round GNCC holiday. The seven times EnduroGP champion claimed ninth overall, seventh in XC1 class (1.7 off sixth) despite suffering again with bike starting problems on the Beta, particularly off the start where he was last away from by some distance.
Steve spent much of the race fighting back and forth with Jordan Ashburn and Tyler Medaglia but, mindful of Josep Garcia’s departure back to Spain with a broken hand last week, says he was happy to be in the mix but was keen to take a decent top 10 finish without taking risks.
“I was riding on the side of caution ahead of flying home this week to begin World Championship training.” Said Holcombe. “It felt really good to be in the mix and actually get a good race in the bag after the problems in the first two rounds. I didn’t get a very good start but was able to make some passes in the first lap and work into a good group of riders and we had a really good race.
“I’m happy with the month or so racing in GNCC and the experience has been great. The Beta USA guys and Evan Smith have made me really welcome and I’ve learned a lot. Now it’s back to the day job!”
Overall championship standings after Rnd3:
Tayla Jones back on top of the box
The AM race is consistently dominated by the leading WXC class riders but it’s been a while since the first placed finish went to a rider not on a blue bike. Tayla Jones has been working hard to come back from injury (ies) in the last couple of season but finally nailed a GNCC WXC win at The General after fighting to the front on the last lap to take her first win since the 2020 season.
AmPro Yamaha’s Rachael Archer took second place after battling with Jones throughout the race and maintains her championship lead. Trail Jesters KTM Racing’s Korie Steede continued was third in class and fourth overall ahead of Shleby Turner.
The General GNCC Am race results:
The 2022 season rolls on with little respite at the Tiger Run GNCC in Union, South Carolina on March 27.
Photo Credit: Mack Faint + Ken Hill