The Kona G24 Global Solo Championships at Snow Mountain Ranch in Winter Park, Colorado last weekend saw a third successful defence of the Women’s G24 title for myself and the Specialized team. We led from the start and throughout the race for a textbook 2pm finish. It was a perfect end to an excellent season, made extra special by my family flying over from New Zealand to support.
The G24 Champs was always going to be a tough race. At nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 metres) the altitude was the first challenge. My Coach Andy and I arrived at Snow Mountain Ranch in Winter Park 12 days before the race in order to acclimatise, which also gave us plenty of time to practice the course and finalise our strategy. The time was well-spent as I felt strong throughout the race and everything went off, virtually without a hitch.
The race began at 2pm on Saturday with a Le Mans start. I came in well off the run, and managed to get in with the leading bunch on the first lap. I worked hard on the first five laps as I wanted to pull out a lead on my competitors before the sun went down at 7.30pm. We knew the night would be long and cold, and we wanted to have a buffer so that I would be able to stop for hot food and clothing changes if needed. Everything went to plan, although I did have one small disaster when I accidentally burst a Powergel all over myself on the third lap, gluing my hands to the grips, and having to stop prematurely for a wash down and clean shirt and gloves. Despite that, I managed to secure a 30 minute lead by 7pm, which stretched to over an hour during the night.
The course was designed by former G24 Solo Champ Nat Ross, and his expertise was evident. Every part flowed, and the perfect balance of singletrack and open space meant that the 12 mile course never felt crowded or dull. The climbs rolled and kicked just enough to hurt a little without becoming demoralising, and for the first six hours many riders were able to turn out clockwork hour laps. The long descent into the start/finish area felt great during the day, but at night it was a killer, driving home the cold.
If the altitude was the first challenge, the cold was the second. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky when the sun went down, and the temperature dropped instantly, and continued to drop steadily to well below freezing by 4am. It was a big shock to the system, and although I piled on every warm item of clothing I had, nothing could keep out the chill. All the soloists seemed to be suffering, and many stopped during the night, including second-placed woman Lynda Wallenfels. This allowed US National Solo Champ Christina Begy to move from third into second, where she continued to ride hard throughout the night and through to the end. For all of us, it was simply a matter of turning the pedals and waiting for morning to arrive.
The sky finally began to lighten about 6.30am, and I can honestly say I’ve never been so glad to see the sun. Those still out on course were laughing and slapping each others’ backs, congratulating everyone for surviving the night. The sun broke over the mountains onto a perfect dome blue sky, thick white frost and mist rising off the lake. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
My parents had rented a cabin near the course, and when morning had broken I came around to find my Mum waiting for me at the side of the track with a bowl of hot porridge – bliss! Within an hour I was stripped back down to shirt and shorts, and the final laps were ridden once more in blazing heat.
For me the race was more than a win, it was huge experience and the truest test of endurance I have ever set myself. Thanks heaps to all my sponsors and special thanks to Andy and my family for their tireless support, to Pat Adams and his team for another great event, and to the fantastic people at Snow Mountain Ranch and Winter Park for their limitless hospitality. We truly did not want to leave!Jenn O’Connor rides for Team Specialized and is coached and supported by Patterson Training. She is the three-time G24 Solo Champion and is sponsored by Powerbar, Lupine Lighting Systems, Tune, Innovations, Hope, SMICA, Camelbak, Nokon , Minoura, SRAM and White Lightening Lubricants.