Pinkbike race photographer Ross Bell catches up with Tracey Hannah in the Polygon UR pits for a conversation about her recent victory at Fort William and what it was like to be the first woman besides Rachel Atherton to occupy the top step at a World Cup DH in over two years.
What was it like to be back on the top step - and at Fort William?
Pretty amazing. I definitely didn’t go into the week expecting to be walking away with the leader’s jersey, that’s for sure. It’s a really special feeling because the team has put a lot of commitment into me and I’ve put in a lot of hard work into at least trying to get close as I can to the top step. So, getting the top step after five years away from it is pretty awesome.
You had a few years when you suffered from injuries. Are you building momentum again?
Every year I’m surprised by how much better I get. Because, the first year that you recover from a broken leg, you think, “Ah, I’m good now.” And then the next year you realize how behind you were, and every year I realized, “Wow! I really was weak” or, “I really did struggle with that area.” I think the biggest struggle, for the most part, was mentally and I guess that kind of took over after realizing that I was struggling physically as well, with strength in my hip and stuff like that.
So, you just worked through it all to get back up there?
Yeah, last time I won a World Cup was the year that I broke my leg. It’s good to know that if you try hard with something, I guess, that you can achieve it at the end.
It’s hard to explain what it was like. It was just trying. Like, you’re just trying and not giving up and just hoping that every year you get a bit better. It was definitely worth it, and at the same time, it was like a complete surprise as well. I never had thought that I would win a Fort William World Cup. Obviously, I have goals to win the World Cups, and win the World Cup series, and win World Champs, and I never imagined that Fort William would be one of them. So, not only was I so stoked to be on the top step again, but to do it at Fort William is a lifetime memory, even if it never happens again.
Obviously, you are on form this year, with a ten-second gap on the field at Fort Bill, but were there any lingering thoughts, like Rachel wasn’t there or that kind of thing?
No, and I think the main thing is that eventually you learn how to deal with pressure and mental stuff, and I think maybe that’s one thing I’ve learned a lot faster than the others, because I’ve gone through so many full-on injuries.
I’ll take you back to 2012. I won the first World Cup that I’ve raced in five years. Oh, I wasn’t ready to win, and I went into Val de Sole with the leader’s jersey and did about six front flips. I’m saying there’s a time to win and there’s a time to carry the leader’s jersey, and now everyone says to me like: “Man, what’s different? What’s changed?”
If winning changes you, you’re probably not ready to win. I don’t want it to change me. I just want to race the same as I have all year, with a goal in mind - and that’s the World Champs.
Seems to be a family atmosphere on the team. Is that something you thrive on?
Yeah, this is the sixth year on the team, so this team has been through every injury that I've ever been through, and Mick’s as well. And we all carry each other when someone is injured. Cous Cous’ main goal is that we take care of each other as riders on a team, that we have a positive team environment, and that the first thing is that we’re having fun on the bike and doing our best. If we get good results, then that’s a bonus and one of the reasons we get good results is that when you work for someone that you enjoy working for, and who encourages you - well, you want to do well. So yeah, the team environment is of the utmost importance, for sure.
Tracey and brother Mick at the Fort William finish line. Mick has been her team mate for six years.
What’s your main focus for the rest of the year? Obviously, grabbing the Rainbow Jersey….
I never like the comments this year thinking that I’ll be leaving the World Cup, so I guess I got to switch focus for a bit now. I still want to ride every race the best that I can. Not focus too much on the other riders or the fact that Rachel is here or not here, or where I could have or would have been. I have a goal and that’s the World Champs in Cairns because it’s not every day that you get that opportunity.
And... I got Crankworx coming up this weekend as well, and I’m leading that series…
You got a lot going on…
Yeah, just keep the roll going and keep working hard towards the end goal and see how we go I guess.
Fort William's victory earned Tracey the series lead going into Leogang the following week.
How do you feel about the competition depth in the women’s category is, given the changes the UCI made, cutting the numbers?
I think that UCI competition is quite good. I think cutting it was a bit hard, but also it makes the women that are down in tenth to twentieth really work hard to get in. I think it makes the competition stay exciting from first to fifteenth place and I think it’s really good and healthy for the Women’s sport. Because women’s downhill seems to move ahead so quickly, it’s hard to start racing and then get involved. Women seem to learn from experience more than just going balls out, so it takes a few years to get into it and get used to racing and really get up there and you can kind of see that with a few of the girls that do race. After a few years of experience, then they get really fast.
How hard would that be for a young racer coming through?
As long as they start riding and training hard. I think the mental is the hugest part. I think it’s hard, but I don’t think it’s impossible. It takes hard work and I think that’s good. Downhill is prestigious and getting into the World Cup should be hard - and it is hard.
You been through a lot of regulation changes as the sport evolved. What do you think of the direction we’re setting at the moment?
That is hard to say. Sometimes it jumps back and forth with how it goes. Sometimes you think that new regulations are going affect it in a certain way and it has the opposite effect. So, I think that economically, people have to imagine the consequences of the regulations that they do try and change, and maybe think about the future before they make decisions so abruptly. I don’t comment too much on that stuff because, if I was to making the decision, it would be a hard decision for me to make as well. I just hope they are doing as best as they can do for the sport and we’ll have to see the outcomes and change as we go.
Tracey retained the number one plate with a second place at Leogang, only a half second back from Tahnee Seagrave.
Did your win at Fort William give you more confidence going into Leogang?
Definitely, winning is such a huge confidence booster and on top of that, winning on such a hard track physically was a great boost for Leogang.
Second place at Leogang means you are the series leader. Any thoughts on wearing the number one plate?
It's great! I guess you work hard, never give up, aim for your goals, and amazing things happen. This, for the moment, is my amazing thing. It's so great to enjoy the ride and to share it with my team.