Since 2007 West Virginia’s Snowshoe GNCC has stood out as the toughest and most unique event on the GNCC tour. Held at the upscale Snowshoe Mountain Resort, this event pays a bit of a tribute to the original GNCC event, the legendary Blackwater 100. By no means is this event a copy of the Blackwater, nor is it a hard enduro type race, but with more than 1,600 riders taking on the course throughout the weekend, the long, grueling, three-hour Pro bike race is rough, tough and features its fair share of challenges. Here’s a few things we learned.
WHAT IS SNOWSHOE ALL ABOUT?
When GNCC officials scoped out the Snowshoe property prior to committing to the event for 2007, they were blown away at how much the woods reminded them of the legendary Blackwater 100. Sure, there’s none of the infamous river crossings but the trees, rocks, and undergrowth on Snowshoe Mountain all look incredibly similar to what riders experienced in Davis, West Virginia’s Blackwater 100. Snowshoe lacked a central area near the Snowshoe Village to fit in a traditional GNCC start, so just like the Blackwater it was decided that Snowshoe should have an “in-town” Grand Prix style start with five to six riders lined up per row, taking off just around ten seconds apart.
For years Snowshoe also featured a long course that was occasionally a total of 20 miles in length. In order to keep things flowing through the weekend, the course utilized a “double” finish line where riders would run two different laps to complete that full 20-mile loop. However, this year the decision was made to layout one standard GNCC length loop and just use one single finish line. Doing so would allow the track crew to dedicate their time to one quality loop and not spend the week setting up as much trail as possible.
The thing about racing on the side of a ski resort is that you are pretty limited to where you can physically ride and not have giant bottlenecks. Because of this, the Snowshoe course has two very distinct feels. When you head out for the first mile, you’re racing fast ski trails before dropping into the woods down to Howard’s Hole; the most infamous part of the Snowshoe course. Howard’s Hole is a long, muddy section with giant rocks between it and hundreds upon hundreds of spectators watching it all happen. Once you’re out of Howard’s Hole, you’re skipping between short woods pieces and ski trails for a couple of miles before heading across the other side of the mountain and into more woods. You also run those ski trails back to the finish, which means there’s about four miles of wide-open ski slopes that may remind you of a West Coast desert race.
The woods on the west side of the mountain? Well, it’s less about riding in dirt and more about riding in rock. It seems like once you cross into the woods and loop around the western plateau of the mountain, the trail is nothing but slick, wet rocks for miles and miles. There truly are very few spots that provide a break when you’re in those woods as you’re essentially riding one giant rock garden for about seven miles. Oh, and in those seven miles there’s also three areas where the rocks get even bigger, with perfectly sized gaps between them that can grab a front wheel. Basically, we’re saying Snowshoe is grueling.
BEN AND Stu BATTLE
While there have been four different riders that have claimed GNCC overall wins this season, the two guys up front who have established themselves as the biggest championship contenders are Ben Kelley and Steward Baylor. While Baylor has more wins than anyone this season, he also missed the opening round and suffered a 14th at round two. He backed that up with a four-race win streak, a third, and another win at the previous round. Ben Kelley on the other hand won the second round and has not finished worse than sixth all season and has been on the podium all but two times.
Stu Baylor would lead the first row of riders into the first turn but actually went down on the pavement. He was able to quickly remount and would come around the first lap in the second-place spot with Jordan Ashburn taking the early lead. Baylor would then take over the lead on lap two and three before Kelley worked his way into the lead on lap four. Kelley hails from Connecticut and cut his teeth riding and racing in slick, rocky conditions so the Snowshoe course suited him well. Stu Baylor, however, is really fast in… well, pretty much any type of terrain! Kelley was able to open up about a 30-second lead over Baylor in the final stages of the race and held on to take the win over Stu. Ashburn got his fourth XC1 podium of the season in third, ending the day some three-minutes behind Baylor making the biggest spread from first to third we’ve seen all season. Josh Toth is another Connecticut native and was able to come away fourth with Grant Baylor rounding out the top five.
As the series heads into summer break, Kelley holds a nine-point lead over Stu Baylor in the hunt for the GNCC National Championship. Baylor has been working on digging his way out of that deficit all season and looks more motivated to claim the title than he’s ever been. However,Kelley is equally as motivated to hold onto that lead. While it will be September before the series kicks back off, the final four rounds of the season have potential to produce some of the most intense racing the GNCC series has ever seen.
|1||Ben Kelley||02:58:32.379||Harwinton, CT||KTM|
|2||Steward Baylor||02:59:03.210||Belton, SC||Yamaha|
|3||Jordan Ashburn||03:02:04.078||Cookeville, TN||Husqvarna|
|4||Josh Toth||03:04:49.578||Winstead, CT||KTM|
|5||Grant Baylor||03:06:19.370||Belton, SC||GasGas|
The past two seasons have been pretty exciting in the XC2 class as there have been a number of riders challenging for the championship and even more riders playing spoiler to the podium. However, this year’s Snowshoe saw one of the biggest shakeups in the past couple of seasons. Leading the charge in the XC2 class right now is Johnny Girroir, who happens to hail from Massachusetts and also knows a thing or two about rocky conditions. With another win at Snowshoe, Girroir has now won six of nine races in the XC2 class and has not finished worse than sixth all season.
His biggest challenges have been coming from Craig Delong and Mike Witkowski but unfortunately Witkowski sat out the Snowshoe event due to some health concerns. Craig Delong would lead the early portions of the Snowshoe event but ended up running into some minor issues through the race that ultimately cost him some time and dropped him to sixth at the end of the day. This left the door wide open for Girroir, who ended up grabbing the win while former motocross rider turned off-roader, Ben Nelko claimed his first ever XC2 class podium with a second-place finish. Ryder Lafferty also put together his best race of the 2021 season to land on the podium in third in what was also his first race back since breaking his collarbone at the Tiger Run GNCC in late April.
Girroir has now opened up a sizeable points lead as Delong sits 34-points back in second place. Cody Barnes is currently third place in the XC2 class points with Lyndon Snodgrass and Liam Draper rounding out the top five. Much like the XC1 class, there are a number of guys looking to make a statement when the series returns from summer break. The XC2 class has now seen nine different riders on the podium in 2021, and four different riders claim XC2 wins. This class has always been full of young guns looking to make a statement but this could be one of the deepest talent pools the XC2 class has ever seen.
|1||Jonathan Girroir||03:14:51.399||Southwick, MA||GasGas|
|2||Benjamin Nelko||03:16:14.278||Aliquippa, PA||Husqvarna|
|3||Ryder Lafferty||03:16:56.578||Millville, NJ||Husqvarna|
|4||Evan Smith||03:21:05.699||Jefferson, GA||Husqvarna|
Images by Mack Faint