Interview: Tahnee Seagrave - "I've Never Hit the Deck So Fast"

Jul 16, 2019
by James Smurthwaite  
World Cup leader Tahnee Seagrave out n the rain during track walk.

Tahnee Seagrave

On 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.


Tahnee rode the rocks like a boss


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.

It s been a long time coming but Tahnee Seagrave finally took that home win she s been craving.


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.

bigquotesI have an ‘on’ button and that button only works when I'm put under severe pressure


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.

Big victory today for Tahnee Seagrave after landing in third for qualies. Clearly the weather holding off played in her favour.


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.


Tahnee Seagrave took her time to find her pace on this tricky track. She would finish third in finals.


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.

bigquotesI 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.


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.


Tahnee looks relaxed smooth and aggressive on track. After a few years of running the number 2 plate win her bike she had her sights set on the top spot for 2019.


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.

A solid start to the season for Tahnee Seagrave who ll look to go two better tomorrow.


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.


Fastest qualifier Tahnee Seagrave had a slight bobble on the motorway that need up being a much bigger deal once she crossed the line. Race officials ruled she crossed the tape and returned lower down the track and infraction that would find her disqualified from the race and her 3rd place position awarded to Tracey Hannah.


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.


28 Comments

  • + 51
 Heck yeah! Tahnee is a bad ass. Can’t wait to see her back at the start gate.
  • + 38
 Please, please, please can Tahnee, Rach and Pom Pon all take the time to heal up well. I just want to see that 5 way battle, you know the one, the one we've all been waiting for..... Rachel Atherton Vs Thanee Seagrave Vs Myriam Nicole Vs Tracey Hannajh Vs Vali Holl.
  • + 12
 Don't forget about Cabirou and Nina. Women's races are finally getting really interesting. It's got to be pretty bitter sweet for Tracey winning the title this year with the two best women down. She's riding amazing but there will always be that... what if attached to it.
  • + 31
 @onemanarmy:

There is an argument that Rach and Tahnee crashed during events - part of the skill of practicing is finding the limit without hurting yourself. Tracey has managed to do that, so her wins are legit.

I’m on the fence myself, but that is one point of view.
  • + 12
 @Linkpin: Not saying they're not legit. But every true competitor wants to beat the best of the best. In the end all you can do is beat those that are in front of you and that's what she's doing. She's having a great season.
  • - 7
flag toprace (Jul 16, 2019 at 17:28) (Below Threshold)
 @onemanarmy: Asterisk championship.
  • + 37
 Deserves all the success she gets. She’s great for mtb
  • + 12
 Poor mechanic indeed... half a millimetre is (Sorry Tahnee) nonsensical, it was between your ears. During a day a human elasticity and length changes more than that.. and from day to day you will also have bigger changes than that.

To stress the absurdity: new gloves will have more effect due to the padding not being worn. New short/Chamois: bigger difference. New cleats... bigger difference. New shoes... you get he picture.

On the other hand, this mental aspect is something the mechanic certainly understands (just as team-mechanics joke that Jordi in some silly cases just "fakes" changing settings).
  • + 18
 I think she was exaggerating how miniscule the changes were when they were dialing in her bike, but you're right that so much of it is in the athletes heads. It's like making the change from manual adjustment to electric adjustment in a car seat. Now that you have so many more options, you're never sure if it's quite right. As more attention is being paid to geometry adjustments on these bikes, the athletes are spending more time and energy "puzzling". That said, Tahnee has mentioned seeing a sports psychologist and it shows through her interview. She's got her head on straight and is just focusing on the things she can control instead of the myriad of things she can't.
  • + 8
 It's probably a bit of both. I know people who go nuts because they always think their bars aren't aligned perfectly. On the other hand I have also experienced myself that small changes to the position of your hands do change the position of your entire body on the bike. So having a new cockpit could take some time to get dialed for a pro rider.
  • + 7
 The mechanics job is to keep the the riders bike in race-worthy condition with a setup the rider likes - I imagine her comment about half a milimetre is more exaggeration but then who are we to say what is an 'absurdity' if thats what she needed to feel confident? - Anyone here won a world cup or ride their bike at such a pace where one mistake can mean half a season off the bike, or worse?
  • + 10
 @JasonALap:

For sure. Just like Greg Minnaar has lucky clothes and Loris needs to torture his mechanics... it's part of the ritual. The focusing of the mind is a HUGE thing for throw-myself-of-a-mountain-as-fast-as-possible professionals.

If Tahnee needs that reassurance it's completely valid.
  • + 5
 @JasonALap: Dude, I thought I was the only one. New car came with 10-way (or some stupid high amount) adjustable seats and I fiddled for months trying to get it just right. Left it that way for over a year and completely re-did everything again a month ago. Now I think I've finally got it "right" and plan on leaving it where I have it. Thanks for making me feel sane.
  • + 5
 Hard to say, but don't underestimate how sensitive true professionals in any sport or occupation are to even the smallest changes/details. I can tell the difference in variability of the same size glove between surgical gloves thickness when operating and the differences are less than a millimeter. I can't tell a one click difference on my fork/shock compression/rebound but I'm not a pro rider. I know because I stopped using my go pro because it looks slow when I think I'm going fast. Does it really effect performance? Meh, IDK.
  • + 1
 @GOrtho

I'll never claim Tahnee is wrong in her approach. if she needs this, she needs it. The assurance you truly did everything in your power to get the ideal circumstances is worth much more than 0.5 mm. Also, people rightly argue she probably is using hyperbole to make a point, which is quite likely.

But your tactile feeling during a precision work, focussing on (less than?) a millimeter. So yeah, of course you notice thickness and supleness of your gloves, just as a guitar player notices the thickness of his plectrum, or an artist the thickness of the hairs on his brush.

Feeling 0.5mm removed about 40cm from her hands, riding a mountainbike at high speeds really is very different indeed. Besides the riding-buzz, there are several physiological factors (body changing during the day) that makes sensitivity of cycling position on that level nonsense. If this was the case she would also have issues when getting new clothes/shoes, even if they are identical.

OTOH, if she claims to feel a click on her forks, I certainly believe that immediately, even though you and I can't. The thing is that a compression click has much more effect than 0.5mm Big Grin

But, even if all between the ears... Tahnee leaves nothing to circumstances and that's how it should be. She certainly knows what she is doing.
  • + 1
 @Ronkol: All good points.
  • + 6
 "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."

The difference is at a high riding level there a horde of mechanics doing whatever it takes to win than tenth of a second.

At a common mortal level there's a bunch of shits slagging ya so you keep those thoughts to yourself and ride as it is.

Maybe not at Tier 0 / Challenger level but we do.. except it takes most of us a few weeks to realise there's something different, and it takes pros a few hours to complete the exact same amount of mileage and arrive to the same conclusion..
  • + 6
 In the meantime Tahnee you’re doing an exceptional job on the broadcasting, truly genuine and engaging. Just in case you actually read this stuff
  • + 3
 Glad you said it here. Others have mentioned it too. She's pretty good.
  • + 5
 Tahnee brings so much energy and excitement to WCDH. Hope she makes a strong comeback. My morning Pinkbike time isn't the same without her!
  • + 5
 So many attitudes...all of them to be admired.
  • + 1
 Can relate to hee injury, it's quite similar to what I have done. Broke the Collarbone on the outer end and ripped one of the ligaments off. Luckily for me, since there was a decent bit of bone left was just bolted back on with the rest of the collarbone. Back on the bike after four weeks, but MTB will need to wait a bit longer...
  • + 4
 Such a great attitude and amazing racer!
  • + 1
 I think she a very talented one but ,is like she has to much fun in the riding,it will pass have a nice time healing and then just go all in even without the best cards Smile ))) ,stay young and healthy
  • + 3
 We love you Tahnee! Heal strong!
  • + 2
 What an awesome person
  • + 1
 Put this girl on the Syndicate please.
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