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Sabrina Jonnier, of HyÃ©res, France, claims a respectable fifth place finish at the 2011 Downhill World Championships in ChampÃ©ry, Switzerland in challenging conditions.
Dry conditions in the days leading up to race day made for fast course that Jonnier was gaining speed on every practice run. Though not suited to her preferred physical style, the steep and treacherous track was primed and ready for a fast result. Conditions changed drastically when heavy rain came in just before the start of the race and saturated the course.
“Talking to the rest of the French Team, they were telling me just to stay on the bike and you’ll be on the top – but this is the World Champs, you don’t just go slowly around the corners like a nanny and on the third corner I went down.” Jonnier recounted after the race. “The first couple of corners felt great, I had this feeling like it was going to be an awesome one. I was having so much fun, I could go fast (in the conditions) and I was going to be fine.”
After getting back on course the difficulties continued when Jonnier went off course for a second time and her bike became entangled in a fence. The remainder of the run was just about staying on the mud caked bike. Despite these challenges Jonnier still managed a fifth place finish for the day – a testament to her bike speed and positive attitude.
“I really wanted to win today – I really want to win another World Champs before retiring, so I might have to keep going next year! I’m angry and hungry for a victory! I’m going to change a few things in my training – I’m going to train in New Zealand this year so I can keep racing in the World Cup off season.”
“I turned 30 this year and I’ve been racing bikes, BMX and downhill for 24 years and I’m still really motivated. I want to change a few things next year, I’m still going to race World Cup Downhill but I’d like to be more serious about racing enduro too. I’ve done a few enduro races and they have been just awesome. I love pushing myself and discovering a new form of riding. It’s such an adventurous form of racing – I love it.”
“I love riding my bike; I still get up every morning and love it. Riding a bike is the best thing in the world – even the day when I have to stop racing because of age or injury, I’ll still love to get out on my bike. It’s time for some time off – I’m going to Interbike with my sponsors Maxxis-Rocky Mountain next week and after that I’m going to take some time away from the bike, make some art and then get ready for a lot of hard work in the off season to get ready for next year.”
“I really wanted to race well today as a tribute to my good friend Pierre Quinon who past away recently. He won the gold medal in pole vault in the 1984 Olympics and then had a really tough follow-up season; he didn’t get the results that people expected from him. He was an amazing and inspiring person, I really wanted to do something special in his name today – but regardless of my result today I wanted to say how amazing a person he was.”
2011 has been a tough season for Jonnier, who started her World Cup title defense with an injury to her lower back. She was disappointed by her fourth place in the opening round at South Africa, but her injury and her results would continue to plague her season. Her uncharacteristic string of outside podium finishes were in stark contrast to her stranglehold on the very top tier of this sport.
Beginning in 1999 with her Junior World Downhill Championship, Jonnier has commanded a top three position in the World Cups and the World Championships. Most of that time, if she didn’t win, she was second -a reign spanning more than ten years that has truly defined Jonnier as one of the sport’s greatest ever racers.
But even the likable French racer admitted that her “off season” had paved the way for some younger French girls to develop their craft.
“It makes it more interesting for everyone,” Jonnier says. “Now there are three French girls who can win on any given day and two very fast English girls who want it equally as badly. It makes for exciting racing.”