Tahnee SeagraveOn her day, Tahnee Seagrave is the fastest woman in the world. Over the past two years, she has won the most World Cups of any elite racer but that has never translated into overall success. Before this season, she had accrued seven World Cup wins but had never led the overall series, which made it all the more special when she won the opening round this year and finally was able to don the white vest.
It was a short-lived success though as on her first run at the next World Cup in Fort William, she suffered the biggest injury of her World Cup career to date and had to be stretchered off the hill with a grade 3 AC tear and ligament damage. We caught up with Tahnee as she took a holiday in Morzine to chat on her injury, her past success and her mental approach to racing.
Were there any niggling regrets coming into this season from the year before having won three World Cups and still not taken the overall?
Yeah, it's crazy but I was really happy with my season and I've never got that bothered over not having the overall title. To me, that year I'd won the [joint] most World Cups out of any woman there, I just didn't get the title. I'm just constantly always trying to improve so that's just a constant raging fire inside me so every offseason I just want to do better.
You talked about struggling with set up as well in the offseason. What things were you struggling with?
The TR11 has been updated and I changed a few parts in the cockpit area so everything felt super different to me. I stayed at home riding the same tracks so when I went somewhere else, which I tried doing riding the first National and stuff, something just didn't feel right for a very long time.
It sounds so bad but it literally was down to half a millimetre and we had to keep going back and forth. It's stuff as easy as rolling the bars back and forth, changing the stem length, changing your position on the bike, bar width, all stuff like that, which I don't really think people realise changes the way you ride and when you're an elite level.
When you say it came down to half a millimetre, where was that half a millimetre?
We were trying to get the front end higher or lower and we were trying to get the bars to the degree where I like them forward or back and that's what I mean, it was such little changes in the end. I feel so bad for my mechanic but they put so much work in and I'm forever grateful for sure.
At the first British National of the year quite a bit was made of the fact that Rachel beat you by seven seconds. Did you see that as significant at the time?
No, not particularly. It wasn't a goal of mine to go and win. I guess any race I enter, I do want to win but I can't put those expectations in front of me because, especially at Nationals, my head game isn't the same.
I have an ‘on’ button and that button only works when I'm put under severe pressure. My bike wasn't set up yet so I went there knowing all I wanted to do was get some race time and just be around the whole scene again. I went in there not expecting a result so I was stoked because me and my mechanic got loads done and we moved forwards so it was a successful weekend for me.
What does that ‘on’ button feel like, how is that different from normal riding?
It's super odd. I'm not sure if it's something I've had since I started riding but I’ve never felt the need to go 110% constantly, it's not my style of riding. I know I can ride a bike fast so when it requires me to turn on and take that risk, I know I can do it for that one run.
Obviously, I'll learn the track, I'll go fast in sections but I feel like I'm a slow starter and I like to ease my way into the weekend. By the time I get to my race run, I'm so ready and I feel like it's there and I’m ready to lay it all out. I like that feeling, that's the one time I get to risk it all.
Can you describe it?
It's a weird feeling, it's so hard to explain. There's so much work done behind the scenes that the racing part, when you've done all the work and done all the practice, is actually the fun part. When I get to my warm-up, I'm so excited, especially if I know I've put the work in and I've done everything I can to give myself the best chance of going as fast as I can. I embrace it, I like feeling nervous and it means something good is about to happen usually.
That's super interesting because you speak to a lot of racers and they dread the Sunday, they only think of the things that can go wrong so that mindset must be really powerful.
Yeah some people hate it, hate going into the gate and hate going into racing but for me, I love the beeps, I love the work that you have to put in, I love the challenge and if it's going wrong, I'll thrive even more.
What do you mean by that, "if it's going wrong I thrive even more?"
Well, it's like an extra challenge and my brain decides to focus so much more. I think it's the same as anyone, I just don't think a lot of people recognise it as a good thing. If you've got a setback, you tend to then take off your expectations because you can't focus on winning and then usually that's when the winning happens because you've got no expectations. It would be nice to win but you can't expect it, it won't happen.
So how did it feel winning in Maribor and for the first time getting that leader's jersey?
Yeah, it was mad. Again, I didn't expect it! I worked hard towards it but there were just a few things that didn't feel quite right. I just put my head down and I enjoyed my time on the bike.
In qualies after it rained a bit, I was in a super good position because I knew where I held back. Then when I came down in my run I knew it was solid but you just have no idea, especially at the first World Cup, it's such an unknown territory you haven't raced anyone properly, nobody has been in that environment so I think for me to take that one was super special.
I'd never won an opening round before and it was the first time I'd got hold of the leader's jersey after 7 World Cup wins so it was a special moment for sure.
You had a month to ruminate on that leader's jersey and you've said in the past you prefer to be the underdog. How does it affect you being the leader and having that target on your back?
I've been the one to beat a lot of times and that was the thing that used to worry me because I don't like being watched, that's when I feel pressure. It has happened so many times now over the past five years but I knew that I had hold of the leader's jersey, it wasn't not going anywhere and it was an achievement. I'm going to be able to say that I've had it for the rest of my life and whatever the next round brought to me then that was fine.
When you have a big gap in racing do you continue training hard?
I guess we're always trying to get fitter and faster. I definitely carried on training and as I said there were still feelings in my bike I wasn't quite happy with so yeah I trained really hard after that. It is hard when there's such a big gap because everyone goes back home and it's as if there's another little offseason but I just trained as I normally would and turned up in Fort William.
What do you remember of the crash in Fort William?
I know people say this all the time but I swear there was just something about that day. I've thought about it a lot and I just think it was a Final Destination type thing. Once it happened I was just like, “that was just inevitable”.
Were there things that happened that morning that made you say that?
Well, the weather was absolute crap! I normally like riding in the rain in the wet but it was the first time that Fort William was just a bit gloomy and dark and it was out there to really give us a run for our money.
Where I went down the taping was slightly different so it led me 2cm to the left of where I'd been normally. I guess I just missed the tape during track walk but it's not something you would normally look at. Maybe that's a lesson learned for me.
Is it the kind of track that because you've been there so often, on the first practice run you're maybe not concentrating as much?
I made a point of not doing that! The day before I was told I was being a scaredy cat because there's a double drop and you can go way further off the first drop. So in my first run, I just let go of my brakes a little bit more because I thought I could do it, and I did the first drop fine and then I went a bit too far to the left on the next one.
There's usually a nice landing but because I was to the left there was just a big hole. I've never hit the deck so fast. There was a rock right where my shoulder had landed and if I'd been 5cm any way I would have been alright. A lot of people crashed there but the men were obviously carrying a bit more speed than me and they cleared the rocks before they hit the deck.
It has put it in perspective a bit, you can't lose focus, especially when you're going that fast, you just can't. I felt bad at first and I was beating myself up but then I saw all the crashes coming out of the weekend and I was like, “oh, I definitely wasn't the only one!”
Did you know at that moment it was going to be serious?
I knew it as soon as my shoulder hit the rock, I just wasn't sure to what extent but the pain was pretty up there. I've broken my femur and I've dislocated my elbow before but this was just something else, it just got worse and worse There were two other casualties on track and they were getting them off first and I just had to wait for my turn, which is obviously fine but when your pain is a 10 out of 10 and you're sat in a bog and there's sideways hail, I just wanted a plan. I remember saying to the medic, “I just need a plan, I need a time.” I was in a lot of shock and there was a bit of adrenaline going.
Are you ok watching from the sidelines or do you have lots of FOMO?
It was super hard. I didn't watch Fort William, I saw the results obviously and I watched the last few men come down but that was it.
Was that because you couldn't bring yourself to watch it or were other things getting in the way?
Yeah, it was more of an emotional thing. It's hard because it's what I live for, racing's my thing and I work so hard towards it. It is hard when you sit down at home and you watch your competitors go and smash it, which is obviously what they're there to do, but I want to be amongst it fighting for that top step as well. I like the chase and I love the competition. I did then watch Leogang and put those feelings aside and the racing was still tight so it was nice to see.
Do you have a day you expect to be back or a race you're targeting?
So many people have asked but I genuinely don't know. My collarbone will be six weeks and my ligaments a bit longer. Once they're healed that doesn't mean I can ride a bike downhill and take all the compressions so I think on the six-week mark I'll start training again and then however long it takes me from then.
I am super into my rehab and quite ahead of it all, which I'm stoked with. I've got insane support behind me and I couldn't thank everybody enough who's helping me now it's just unknown territory, I've never done anything like this before.
You've had the most wins over the past two years of any woman but no overall title. Are there any regrets there?
No regrets, never any regrets. I had a self-satisfaction that I had been the most consistent over the year because my worst result was third in Croatia. It was super tight times, super tight racing and I loved it,
What really put a block on last year was getting disqualified in Leogang. I had a pretty shit run anyway and I knew it wasn't a winning run but I was making up a lot of time and the bottom section was where I would excel the most. I just got a tailwind, got thrown out of the tape, lost a shed load of time and I got third place, which would have given me more than enough points to win the overall in the long run.
They decided to disqualify me, which is fair enough but at the time we looked at all the footage and I didn't actually go outside the poles, I rode on them. You could clearly see I lost time but rules are rules and you have to take it on the chin and move on. At the time it hit me hard and when the overalls were being dished out that was also a bit hard but at the end of the day I did my best at every round and that's all I can ask for.
I know, and I think everyone else knows, that it's more than possible. Shoulda, woulda, coulda! But that's racing and that's what's so exciting about racing.