Sabrina Jonnier barely needs an introduction. She is one of the most successful female downhill racers to ever to compete in between the tapes, with five World Cup series crowns and two World Championships to her name. Yet this year she called time on her career after 25 years of two-wheeled racing. We caught up with her out on the trails in the hills near her home in the South of France with her sister, Morganne, to find out why she decided now was the time to stop racing and what it's like to stepping off the circuit.
How long were you racing for?
I've been racing for 25 years. I started racing BMX when I was six and then I switched to mountain bikes when I was 13/14... At what age did you start doing World Cups?
I did four World Champs as a junior, because we used to be able to compete when we were younger then. I wasn't even a junior, I started at 14 in Cairns in Australia. I don't think I did a World Cup that year, maybe 1997/98 I started racing World Cups. How big a part of your life was racing?
My life was racing, everything was about racing. I was going to bed for racing, eating for racing, getting up for racing. Everything was about racing. I started living like that in 1997/98.
Was racing stressful for you? When I saw you in Val di Sole this season, you looked quite stressed before your run.
I always got really nervous before racing, it was my way to get into my own little world, worried only about the track, my bike and myself. Val di Sole was different as well, it was my first race back after my crash in South Africa... How hard was it to walk away from something that's taken over your life like that for 15 years?
It is huge. I've been thinking about retiring for the last two years as I just wanted to move on with my life. I knew I couldn't be racing all my life, especially because I am a woman, I want a family one day so I can't race until I'm 40 years old. I kept racing because first it was pretty much the only think I knew how to do well in life. Also because I was still having fun and that's the main part of racing, I always had fun. I didn't really have any other goals in life until this year, I realised I wanted to do something other than racing and I wasn't having fun racing downhill any more. I just want to ride my bike and discover new trails. Was it an easy decision in the end then?
I think the fact that I crashed in South Africa helped, I think I came back too early, it was a mistake. I don't have any regrets though and it helped me to make my decision. Normally by now I guess you'd be starting to prepare for next season?
Yeah, it's weird. I thought it would be cool for the next few months, but I decided to pass an exam, it's like going back to school, so I will be able to teach biking. In France you need to get a diploma to do that. I'm going back to school now, it started mid-September and runs until mid-December, I go every few weeks to Bourges in the centre of France. There are three mountain bikers - me, Cedric and Cecil Ravanelle, and ten pro road riders! The mix is pretty funny and we learn from each other, it's really interesting. Everything came around this year to help me to decide to get a new life and change my ways. I'm supposed to get a job in my town, in Hyeres, but also I want to work with Manou and Pep's Spirit where we guide people on the beautiful trails in the Gulf of St Tropez, and in Val D'Allos, a small ski are in the mountain two hours away. All year long we can ride here in St Tropez, I don't think there's a better place than here to ride a bike, you have the beautiful views of the sea on the way down.
You don't need to be training any more, do you still wake up in the morning and think "I should be in the gym now?"
That's a funny question! Everybody thinks I should train and I don't even want to hear that word again for at least six months! I don't want to train any more, but I want to ride... I play tennis, I ride every day - road bikes, BMX, cross country, enduro. I think I have been riding more in the last few weeks than when I was training! But I don't want to be obliged to ride, I just want to ride because I love riding. You're not going cold turkey and just sitting in watching daytime television then?
I love being an athlete and I don't even own a TV! I just want to do different sports, I like going out with Manou, so we go running, biking, stand-up paddling, I play tennis with my boyfriend, I just do lots of different things. The racing has been the main part of my life until now and now I want more time for myself.
I've heard a rumour you're riding for Tribe Sports for enduro next year? So you are going to go and do a bit of racing... you couldn't quite stay away!?
I'm just doing a few enduro races, I don't want to do a full enduro programme. I will probably just do the French cups, I don't want to travel as much... for now. I can't quit racing straight away! I've been racing for 25 years, I think if I stop racing I will get sick! You're still going to want to be standing on top of the podium?
I will always be like that! Yeah, I've known Fred (who runs Tribe Sports) for 16 years now and he's always been there to help me when I needed something, so I'm simply happy to be able to ride for him next year. We are good friends, it is going to be good fun. Is there a long-term plan right now?
Not really, I just want to get the job in my town, working with Manou and I'd like to be a yoga teacher, so I am looking to get a class to get that. I also want to learn how to heal people with essential oils, physiotherapy and I'm taking different classes to learn these things.
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