Interview: Sabrina Jonnier

Nov 2, 2012
by Matt Wragg  
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.

Sabrina and Morganne Jonnier

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.

Different styles
On the ridgeline

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.

Past the cactus
Technical descending on the rocks

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.

Above the sea
Into the sunset...

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.

Sisterly love

Posted In:


  • 19 2
 interview yeah!! ... more interview! esp Sam Hill, Danny Hart, Gwin, Minnaar, and so on
  • 6 0
 Couldn't agree more. Race coverage is great these days but the thing that will set one site/publication apart from another is in-depth, insightful interviews with the stars if our sport.
  • 3 0
 Yep, Bulldog, Bryceland, Hill, Minaar, Brendog...
  • 7 0
 This is getting out of hand, now there are two of them!
  • 3 0
 Would love to go out riding with Sabrina, Spent the summer in St tropez and even with some local info and a map, some of these trails are well hidden
  • 7 7
 A couple years a go i raced in the Tara Llanes DH charity event.I happened to ride the lift up with her not knowing it was her. Since we had a 5 minute ride up the chair together i tried to be nice say hi and all i got was an unfriendly rude grump.That's not a champ to me specially at a charity fund raiser.even after not even saying hi back or a word to me i still at the end of the chair ride said have a good race and good look and got not a word.So i say good riddance to her the true miserable champion. I never root against anyone well except when i see her race.
  • 4 3
  • 10 2
 She's a frenchie, she can't help it.
  • 6 1
 I don't know her as a person but some women just feel weird when a guy they don't know tries talking to them. She may have gotten the idea you were hitting on her and not just being friendly. Girls can be like that.
  • 7 0
 I have the completely exact opposite experience with her. I saw her in the paddocks at Sea Otter a couple of years ago, and stupid me said out loud "Hey Sabrina, Hi!!" then quickly realized she was focusing on her race and probably wanted to concentrate as she looked super serious when she turned around. I then said "oops, sorry" real quick, but she lightened up and said it was ok. I then wished her a great run, and from there we small-talked for a few more moments. Yes, her English is limited (a helluva lot better than my French), but still, she wasn't unfriendly at all, if anything as accommodating to a fan as anyone could be right before a race. Maybe she had a bad day at the Llanes classic, who knows, but when people are in the zone for racing, that's their game day so you have to give them some slack. if it was a fan "meet and greet", that would be different. Just my 2 cents to balance things out.

edit: or yes as nicojryan said, maybe she was creeped out at the time lol
  • 2 0
 Based on that post I can see why she got freaked out..
  • 1 0
 Maybe mrgiggs42 has a creeper mustache. In general though girls just don't make much logical sense, just go with it and let it be. Next time on the lift she will probably be the exact opposite.
  • 1 1
 I met Sabrina at Bromont in 2009 where she won that world cup. Great gal and very nice personality. I wish her all the best for the future. Lache pas Sabrina, j'aimerais vraiment te voir faire de l'enduro continuellement.
  • 6 3
 We love you Sabrina!
  • 1 1
 Yes!...we do...
  • 2 1
 She was always one of my faves.
  • 1 0
 Is great to listen/read all this people, thanks for posting!
  • 2 3
 She wants the D.
  • 6 0
 Just not yours.
  • 1 2
 Lol, you're a [plus]
  • 1 0
 Ya. I actually support PB not just leech off them like a cheap fuck.

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