Tall, powerful and blisteringly fast, 31-year-old Fionn Griffiths has spent almost a decade in the top echelon of women’s downhilling. It’s not been easy, but she’s risen to the challenge of falling sponsorship by running her own team.
I have been running a world cup team for the past few years. I started GR Management back in 2004 with Orange then moved to Norco, Intense and on to KTM for this past season. It’s been great to work with each of those companies on various aspects of bike development and publicity over the years.
My longest time with any brand by far was with Norco – six years! I helped bring the Canadian brand directly in to the international media and work on developing the bikes to be able to compete at the top level. It’s really great to sit back and see where the brand is now from where we started eight years ago.
I’m still good friends with everyone there and they are some of the most passionate cyclists I’ve ever met.
I don’t think I was totally prepared for the loneliness of the long days and evenings preparing my bikes and traveling alone.
I sustained an ankle injury just before the start of the 2004 season that meant my previous year’s contract was not renewed, so I guess I started out on the management side of things out of necessity.
I wanted to keep racing and I needed something to offer sponsors that was not purely based on my results as I knew there was a good chance I would not be winning again that year. Funding and sponsorship in general had been increasingly difficult to come by since the early 2000s so I opted to run the full World Cup team programs as well as racing full time.
There are a few female athletes that have landed on their feet when it comes to paid rides but in general it has been getting more and more difficult for female riders to gain a sustainable sponsorship.
Running the team has really been a necessity for me to keep me riding and racing all of this time.
It was a heartbreaking decision for me to split the team apart.
In 2011 it all pretty much came to a climax for me. We moved on to Intense Bikes for a couple of reasons, the main one of those being that our new French team rider Emmeline Ragot wanted to continue with the Intense bikes she’d been riding as she felt she could improve on her already impressive career results with another year on the M9 bike.
That year my Team GR / Intense squad exceeded all expectations and we finished the season fifth overall in the UCI Elite Team standings. For a World Cup team run purely on pride and savings against fully factory backed teams with huge budgets it was a massive achievement.
Emmeline regained her World Championship title with an impressive run and one of the biggest winning margins ever recorded at over 16 seconds and I battled hard in the 4x event to a second place finish. That weekend is definitely one to be proud of and remember for me.
Even after our results against the odds and a massive amount of publicity I was unable to raise funding from the industry to keep the all-female team together.
It was a heartbreaking and last minute decision for me to split the team apart in 2012 but it was a completely unrealistic situation for me to try and run the team again as all of my savings had already been spent that season.
After much negotiation a sigh of relief finally came in February 2012 as Emmeline signed her contracts with the MS Mondraker team.
The 2012 season truly caught me off guard. I had not trained and had just managed to scrape together a bike-only deal last minute.
Having no support did not daunt me but I don’t think I was totally prepared for the loneliness of the long days and evenings preparing my bikes and traveling alone.
For the first time in my career I didn’t really feel like I belonged where I was, I felt out of place and out of my comfort zone.
My priorities right now are on me which they haven’t been for a good few years, getting fit enough to do what I know I can do and choosing products that I know I can succeed on are my number one objectives at the moment.
Beyond that, I’m working with my sponsors to evolve and develop the products as well as working out financially how to go racing properly in 2013.
It will be hard to get where I want to be but not impossible.
Name: Fionn Griffiths
Born: August 27,1982
From: Shrewsbury, Shropshire
Discipline: Downhill and 4X Mountain Biking
Achievements: Two time Downhill World Cup Champion; 4X World Cup Winner; Two time World Championship silver medalist; Five times UK National Champion
Other links: BBC Wales interview with Fionn