It was two Kiwis inside the top six at the latest round of the Grand National Cross-country Championships in the United States.
Taupo’s Rory Mead and Pahiatua’s Paul Whibley finished fourth and fifth respectively at the sixth round of 13 in the American series at the Snowshoe Mountain Resort in West Virginia on Sunday.
With the mountains clear of snow at this time of the year, the tourist facility is the perfect place to host a cross-country dirt bike event and the two New Zealand superstars were keen to get to the action.
But it was defending champion Josh Strang (Suzuki), of Australia, who won the day, extending his lead in the 2011 series, with American Nate Kanney (KTM) finishing just two seconds behind.
Nonetheless, the two New Zealanders were able to score good points.
Mead, a virtual newcomer to the GNCC series with just one other round under his belt and “keeping the seat warm” as a guest rider in the JG Racing/GEICO Powersports factory Honda team, now finds himself 17th overall in the championship standings.
Mead is currently leading the New Zealand Enduro Championships series on his Yamaha YZ450F and is expected home to wrap it up at the final round near Taupo on July 23.
Meanwhile, former champion Whibley (Yamaha YZ450F) remains third in the overall GNCC standings, although now slipping to 34 points behind Strang.
Whibley was frustrated on a day fraught with difficulties with the chain coming off his bike’s sprocket on several occasions.
“A tough day at the office pretty much sums up my Snowshoe GNCC,” said Whibley.
“I got a good start and followed the Suzuki of Josh Strang for the first five or six miles, then moved into the lead when the opportunity presented itself. I was riding comfortable and felt good at the front. The track was pretty tough and again this year was made up of two loops, a 12-mile east loop we ran first followed by a 12 mile loop on the west side of the mountain.
“Things were going good up until about the last mile of the first lap when something threw my chain off. In the process handing over the lead and a spot in the top five while I refitted the chain. I got going again and clawed back some time to be in contact with the lead bunch during the west loop.
“Into the pits for some gas then back into the action on the east side,” Whibley continued.
“This lap was to prove to be the nail in the coffin for my Snowshoe race with further chain derailments, getting stuck and a good crash that bent the bars pretty good.
“I was determined not to finish up so far back and pushed as hard as I could with what I had to work with. Avoiding anything that looked like it would snag my chain guide and doing the best I could with the bars that more resembled some crazy art project rather than the controls of a motorcycle.
“As I scrambled through a slick rock garden on the west loop I past KTM riders Kailub Russell and Cory Buttrick. I also closed in on Nick Fahringer and managed to make a pass later in the lap.
“Heading back out on the east loop for the last 12 miles of the race, I also past my team-mate, Thad Duvall. Sixth place was not what we had worked so hard for. I guess it’s just one of those days.”
The Snowshoe GNCC is considered one of America’s toughest races and this year was tougher than usual after scattered showers turned the tree-rooted and rocky mountain course into an extremely treacherous one.
Because of the many mud holes and slippery climbs found along the trail, several riders struck problems and others were able to take advantage with half a dozen riders holding the lead at one point or another.
In all, Strang, Kanney, Mead, Whibley, KTM’s Charlie Mullins, Yamaha’s Thad DuVall and KTM rider Stu Baylor, all led the race at some time during the three-hour race.
Whibley has recorded two outright wins in the series thus far, the same number as championship leader Strang and American Mullins, but a disastrous opening round back in March, when he finished only 15th overall, has seriously hampered his campaign this season.
The series now takes a two-week break before the riders form up again to race round eight at Millfield, Ohio, on July 10.
XC1 Results, Snowshoe:
1. Josh Strang (Suz)
2. Nate Kanney (KTM)
3. Charlie Mullins (KTM)
4. Rory Mead (Hon)
5. Paul Whibley (Yam)
6. Kailub Russell (KTM)
7. Nick Fahringer (Hsb)
8. Cory Buttrick (KTM)
9. Thad DuVall (Yam)
10. Kenny Gilbert (KTM)
1. Josh Strang (153/2 wins)
2. Charlie Mullins (142/2 wins)
3. Paul Whibley (119/2 wins)
4. Nate Kanney (97)
5. Cory Buttrick (94)
6. Kailub Russell (84)
7. Chris Bach (72)
8. Mike Lafferty (64)
9. Jimmy Jarrett (53)
10. Garrett Edmisten (46)
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com