Reigning UCI World Cup Champion, Sabrina Jonnier, finishes fifth at Leogang, Austria

When Sabrina Jonnier, of Hyé©res, France, woke on Sunday morning at Leogang, Austria, she looked out the window of her room and smiled. It was raining and she knew a decent rainfall on this track would play to her strengths.

“I love this track in the mud. For the first time in my life I was wishing for the rain and when I looked out the window this morning I thought, ‘yes, it’s going to be a good day!’,” she laughs.

“I tried to dance and sing, but it didn’t work, there was not enough rain.”

Jonnier finished fifth at the Leogang World Cup in a time of 4:40.162 with fellow French racer Floriane Pugin posting the fastest time, completing the course in 4:29.427. Rachel Atherton, of Great Britain, faced her Leogang demons to finish second with Tracy Moseley, also of Great Britain, in third.

Maxxis-Rocky Mountain rider Jonnier conceded she was disappointed with her race.

“I know I can do better than fifth, but today I had a good run. On Friday and Saturday I was really slow and still searching to set up my bike. But today I felt good on my bike,” Jonnier shares.

By the time Jonnier took to the course for her race run the mud in the upper section had dried to a sticky consistency that caught her out.

“I messed up in one turn -I actually had to push with my feet -I was running nearly. Then I didn’t have power on the pedalling, but I had fun in the woods and that is what I was happy about -I had fun on my bike and that’s the postiive of the day for me.”

Jonnier had been off the bike with a hematoma on her coccyx for a month before Fort William, effectively disrupting her training schedule for the World Cup season. Leogang was just her second ride back.

“I still have a lot of work to do before Sainte Anne and I am going to work hard to get there,” she vows.

“I’ve only been back for races -I’ve never ridden my bike just for myself so tomorrow I am driving to Les Gets and I am going to stay there for a week. My teammate [Ruaridh Cunningham] is going as well and I have a bunch of mates over there, too. I am just going to ride my bike everyday and have a lot of fun. On Saturday and Sunday I am going to race the first round of the French Enduro Cup there -and then the next week I will do the second round of the French Cup at Val d’Allos.”

Jonnier said the enduro was not important to her race schedule for any reason other than to give her more time on the bike and to “bring my downhill speed up again”.

Along with her lack of time on the bike, Jonnier said the team had made changes to some of their componentry and it took her and her mechanic, James Sulivan, some time to dial the bike in for Leogang.

“Maybe it’s because I am old, but I don’t like changes,” she jokes.

“I like to have the same set-up on my bike -I will only change my tyres for the conditions and my suspension. I wasn’t feeling comfortable at first but then James and I finally found out what to do and I am glad to have this sorted.”

While Jonnier never likes to finish off the top step, she was ecstatic for race winner and fellow French rider Floriane Pugin.

“I was so happy for her -it’s awesome! This is her kind of track -she lives not far from Chatel, Les Gets, Morzine and she rides on this type of track. At races like this I will often follow her in practice because she is so good in mud and roots and the wet stuff. She has been riding amazingly all week and was really confident coming into this race and she just did it.”

Pugin’s win redresses the balance between the French and the British riders, but Jonnier hopes to add to that momentum.

“Now we finally have a Frenchie first this week, but second and third are still English so we need to step up as well!” she laughs.

The 2011 Downhill World Cup season is becoming defined by the women on the podium at Leogang -all five have stepped it up a notch and the battle for the top step has never been so fierce.

“It’s a good challenge this year -we are five women who are all capable of finishing first. It makes us all go fatser and try harder to get to that top step,” Jonnier considers.

“People are getting excited and it’s makiing the racing more entertaining -it’s really good for the sport.”

The next stop on the UCI Downhill World Cup calendar is Mont Sainte Anne, Canada on July 2-3. This will be the next opportunity for Jonnier to tap into the form that has made her so dominant in her 10-year career at the top.

“Mont Sainte Anne is one of my favourite tracks and I definitely want to arrive stronger there. I need to work with my head as that is also where the problem is. I need to work on myself and get my confidence back for Sainte Anne so it can be me on the bike again,” she explains.

“It’s hard to be one of the top women and not be able to battle with the girls. I am ten seconds off Floriane, eight seconds off Rachel and seven seconds off Tracy -that’s not normal -I should be up there with them, I shouldn’t be ten seconds back. I have never experienced it before and it’s hard in my head to realise what’s happening. I am trying to be positive and to work out what’s happening and what I need to do to close that gap and come back.”

Jonnier knows that she will not be the only one looking for speed.

“All the girls will be working hard before Mont Sainte Anne -I know I am going to do my best to be the fastest.”

Jonnier said that she had received great support from her team this season and wanted to thank them.

“I owe a big thanks to all my team -my manager Gary, Amanda our masseuse, James and Bassman our mechanics and also my team mates Ruaridh and junior rider Mark Scott -they rode with me all of Saturday and were trying to help me out -it was really nice of them. Definitely my mum has been a big supporter -I spent a lot of hours talking on the phone with her trying to figure out how to get back to form.”

Jonnier will resume defence of her UCI World Cup title at Mont Sainte Anne, Canada, on July 2-3.

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