As of the end of this season Sabrina Jonnier will no longer be racing World Cups. Sad news indeed.
When any racer retires it is sad news for the fans, especially when they’re as legendary as Sabrina, but what makes this even sadder for us is the circumstances. Her serious crash at the start of this season in South Africa has definitely played a large part in her decision to retire. It would have been so much better for a racer of her calibre to be able to retire on top and not have to go out this way, but knowing Sabrina I am sure her infectious smile will still be ever present. There’s no doubting though that her departure from the World Cup circuit will leave a big hole for us, there will only ever be one Sabrina.
We wish her the best of luck though in the new directions that she’s taking, and we’re glad that it sounds like we’ll still be able to catch up with her at some enduro races over the coming years. In the mean time Sabrina all of us at Dirt are rooting for you to get the kind of result that you deserve in the remaining races of this season.
Here’s the full press release:
Multi-World Cup and Multi-World Downhill Champion, Sabrina Jonnier, has announced that she will retire from World Cup downhill racing at the end of the season.
One of the winningest female riders in the history of the sport, Jonnier made the announcement after finishing fifth at the 2012 French National Championship held at Les Gets, France, at the weekend – the same hill where she raced her first-ever Downhill World Cup in 1996.
If she is selected on the French team Jonnier’s last elite race will be the 2012 World Downhill Championships to be held in Leogang, Austria, at the start of September.
“When I came back from America I spoke with my mum, my close friends and family and made the decision to retire at the end of the year,” explains Jonnier.
“I am 31 next month and I have been racing for 25 years now.”
Jonnier sustained a serious injury when she hit a tree in South Africa in March at the opening round of the season. The injury to her lower back left her bed-ridden for two months. She surprised everyone that she was even able to return to World Cup racing.
“I think this crash in South Africa was too much. It helped me to realise that I still have a life to live and I don’t want to take the risk and possibly hurt myself again.”
This weekend’s French Downhill Championships would be Jonnier’s last national champs and she wanted to finish on a high note, but the elements conspired to topple that dream. Rain turned the track into a muddy, dangerous course.
“I was five minutes from my start and they stopped the race – a kid had crashed pretty badly. Finally my start came around and I put everything into my pedalling in the section at the top and was doing okay in the mud. Then about a minute and a half into my run a guy jumped into the middle of the track and stopped me – a girl had crashed on a jump.”
Jonnier wanted to keep going around the jump, but was not able to. She was asked to ride down outside the track and to make her way back to the top again.
“I cleaned my bike, went up again and rode again without a warm-up,” she recalls.
Jonnier’s second final run was enough for fifth overall.
“I’m too tired to fight. When I was 15, 17, 20, 25 years old I would have fought for this title today, but with all this going on – I couldn’t fight today.”
In her 25 years of racing Jonnier has never faced a situation like she did at Les Gets today.
“This year I am getting all the things that I haven’t had to endure during my career,” she laughs.
“I have been thinking about retiring for a few years, but it was safer for me to keep racing – I didn’t know what I was going to do next and racing was something I knew. Since this crash in South Africa I have realised that there are other things I want to do: enjoying time with my family, my friends and my boyfriend.”
Jonnier plans to sit her bike coaching exam during the remainder of the year, which will lead her into her dream to develop the mountain biking side of her local club.
“The club is a big road bike club and we only have a tiny mountain bike part – all young kids – and I would love to help them. I have 25 years of career to show people. I went through a lot during my career – good things and bad things so I would like to do that in my town. I’d like to develop the trails, too,” she offers.
“I want to travel just to travel, but not to race anymore. I don’t want to race my bike, I just want to ride it now.”
Jonnier’s aim is to amalgamate her experience with guiding and camps to teach young people the importance of nutrition, skills and yoga to their sport.
“The club and my town are really into having me work with them – all my friends at home are helping me out,” she said.
“I’d like to help the next generation of riders to learn from my experience. I am ready to teach the lessons I learned through my career. Anne-Caroline [Chausson] has been a huge example for me and I’d like to give something back to the sport in a similar way.”
Jonnier would not be leaving racing completely – she planned to race more of the enduros next year – “that will be less racing and more fun for me”, she smiled.
Jonnier will now prepare for the Mega Avalanche from July 16-22 ahead of the sixth and penultimate round of the UCI Downhill World Cup to be held in Val d’Isère at the end of the month (July 28-29).
“I’m not sure of my plan for the World Cup at Val d’Isère, but I’d love to do well in France ahead of the World Championships.”
A Stellar Career
Reflecting on 25 years at the top of the sport with Sabrina Jonnier
“I started racing BMX at six and I got serious straight away. I never had a normal teenagehood – I never went out at high school – when friends asked me out to a party I’d say, I couldn’t because I have a race in the morning or I have to train. It has always been racing, training, racing, training – always riding my bike,” she smiled.
“And it’s all been worth it – just to win one big race makes it all worthwhile.”
“People always say that winning all the time is boring. It’s not,” Jonnier laughs.
“Each race I won was always a different feeling at the finish. It’s such a good feeling to be in the gate at the top and to know that you have done everything and you’re ready: The training, the diet, everything is ready for this moment.”
Jonnier said that she knew after the first corner if she would win or not.
“The way I took that first corner would let me know if I was into a good run or the best run. Every time I won it was the best feeling and I miss that.”
She admitted the decision to stop was a tough one, because winning was addictive.
“Winning a World Cup or World Championship is so awesome. I was Junior World Champion in 1999 and it was pretty cool. I crashed and caught up again to win it. And winning the World Championship elite is pretty good, too,” she smiles.
“I remember winning my first World Cup race at Mont Sainte Anne in 2001. I was on it all weekend – all the timing we did – I knew it was good and I won the qualifier ahead of Anne-Caroline [Chausson]. She is a friend, but she has always been my idol – she is a good example to anyone. I beat her in the final run as well and it was a good feeling for me.”
She said each win in her career was special.
“I hold each of my victories as something really precious.”
Chausson has the record for race wins, but in 2009 Jonnier took over the second spot with 17 World Cup victories.
“Winning is awesome – that’s the first thing I will teach people.”
Jonnier said she would look back on her career with pride.
“I had a really successful career – I won five Downhill World Cup titles, two elite World Championship titles and one Junior World Championship title. I am proud of everything I have done so far,” she offers.
“I don’t regret anything in my career. Every day in the past 25 years has been an amazing experience. Every day I was learning something new and now I am ready to move on to something else.”