By Wendy Booher
Location, location, location - it is the number one rule for realtors and should be a rule for race reporters, like this one, who always got the impression of Sabrina Jonnier as aloof, based on circumstances surrounding a certain mid-April sporting event. To evoke an intriguing interview with Sabrina Jonnier at the Sea Otter Classic seemed nearly impossible, which is why location really matters to a racer with regard to weather, course condition, and competition. That is why it was like meeting Sabrina Jonnier for the first time this past July shortly after she took the French national title in the women's downhill competition. Articulate, provocative, and stunningly gracious, Jonnier exhibited an aptitude and decorum that defined the very essence of a world champion.
When the Mountain Bike World Championships come to Fort William, Scotland, September 3-9, Jonnier will need to defend her world championship downhill title on a course she's never won on against two of her strongest competitors. Far from her sunny, temperate training ground near her home in Hyères, France, Fort William is a meteorological crapshoot. What's more, her two rivals are also locals who have placed better than her on the Fort William course in previous years.
"The last two years, it has been (Tracy) Moseley and Rachel (Atherton) in first and second," said Jonnier. "I've never won over there. I've always finished third or second, so defending the rainbow stripes will be interesting."
Jonnier may be primed to attain the (so-far) unattainable since earlier this season she achieved a rare, elusive success in her native France. When the French National Mountain Bike Championships took place this past July, Jonnier took her place along with twelve of her countrywomen. The French Alps' setting and cool alpine weather slightly mimicked Sea Otter weather conditions, however the slippery, rugged downhill course at Montgenevre demanded full-suspension and skill, experience, and ambition - all of which Jonnier has amassed in abundance thanks to one, pesky rival.
Learning from the best
Absent from competition was the practically indomitable Anne-Caroline Chausson, who has frustrated Jonnier at the national championships for more than a decade by taking the national title (and often the world title) in either downhill and 4X, or sometimes both in the same year. Despite multiple runner-up finishes to Chausson's successive victories, Jonnier learned that mental training was as much of Chausson's strategy as physical training was.
"I will say that what I learned from Anne-Caroline Chausson was the mentality to keep winning," said Jonnier. "It's hard to be 100 percent at every race, and that's what I found really wonderful about her - her mental strength that made her go to every race and win every single one."
Jonnier found similarities between the national championship course and her former training ground in Australia, where she lived for three years with her boyfriend, Sam Hill. When Hill also won the world champion's title for downhill last year, it seemed like a gravity dynasty in the making: the two top downhill racers in the world riding for the same team (Monster Energy/Iron Horse) from two of the mightiest nations in gravity racing both earning world titles in the same year. But then the kingdom fell apart, and Hill and Jonnier have since gone their separate ways.
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