Tahnée Seagrave has been cycling since before she can remember, and living in the Alps means she's had some of the best mountain bike trails on Earth as her playground.
Managing to combine school work and racing on the World Cup circuit has been hard but it all came together this year when she was crowned Junior World Champion in MTB downhill.
"My family has always been into riding. My dad raced BMX when he was younger, and from a young age we’d grab bikes and off we’d go. It all started as a family hobby, and went from there.
It really kicked off when my parents decided to move to France. They’d fallen in love with this place in the French Alps. I was 8 going on 9 when we moved, and I can remember we drove over a few and back with vanloads of stuff – it took a few trips!
We bought a really old chalet, and old building in Saint-Jean-d’Aulps, which is just underneath Morzine so not far at all from the riding. It all got done up, so we had a chalet and that’s where everyone came to stay. We had the Athertons, CRC, and I think that’s when I started to go out and ride, and really enjoy it.
Getting into MTB
Although we cycled, when I was in England I remember doing lots of gymnastics, and I was really into that. I was going to carry on, ‘cos I was quite good, but when we moved there wasn’t anything nearby so I stopped. I got into ice-skating for a while, but then mountain biking took over.
Believe it or not, there’s a video of me on YouTube trying a tiny double in Les Gets – I don’t think I even clear it. My dad took the video and he cuts it every time I go to land, because obviously I case it every time! It goes to show everyone starts somewhere.
I must have been 12 when I started racing. I wasn’t very good to start off with, but wanting to win kept me going back. I got beaten all the time.
There was this young French girl who was a year older than me, and she’d always beat me by something like 40 seconds. I really, really wanted to win and I kept getting closer and closer in every race. I was 14 when I finally beat her and I was like ‘yes, this is what I want to do!’
I’m a very competitive person, but not annoyingly competitive. I know when it's needed and when it's not.
All my mates now are from riding, and we’re as competitive as each other, so when we hang out and do stuff – nobody says anything but everyone’s thinking ‘I can do it better than you!’ but it’s all good fun!
Doing bigger races has always been in the back of my head. I remember watching the worlds in Les Gets in 2004.
I got Vanessa Quin’s autograph on a shirt that I had that actually says ‘Tahnee, World Champ, 2013’ – that was a pure guess! It actually worked out to be true.
A few weeks later she came to stay at our chalet, and she was world champion at the time, and I remember running to get my top from my room and showing her, saying ‘See! Look! This is your signature!’ She showed me her jersey with the rainbow stripes; it looked very nice, and I thought I’d like to wear that one day.
Studying, training and riding
Last winter, I was still studying at school, and training at the same time. It was extremely hard – and it wasn’t even full on training! Just injury prevention, so if I took a big hit I wouldn’t get injured, which did pay off.
Combining training and study isn’t easy, but I’ve got a job to do. My school starts at 8am and finishes at 5pm, but it’s an hour away by bus so I was getting up at 6am every morning, and fitting training in around it. Sometimes I had two training sessions a day! I had a few breakdowns, but at the end of the day it’s about what you want the most.
I was definitely feeling good coming into the season this year. Last year I came in thinking ‘what’s it going to be like’, not knowing what to do, but this year I’m more used to it.
In the first few races of the season, a fair bit went wrong. At fort William I got an mechanical, which was frustrating because as it’s the first world cup race of the season, you want to see where you are with all the others. At Val di Sol I crashed twice. I crashed again at Crankworx Europe and I began to loose a bit of hope.
But then we went to Andorra. I had a really bad run but a really good result, and I thought that maybe there was some hope after all. I think I just needed to believe in myself, and once that kicked in things went well. I got a good result at Mont St Anne, and the same in Leogang.
The 2013 UCI World Championships
The World Championships are a weird one, because they are nothing like the World Cup races. Team GB takes us, so for a start you’re with different people. It was different but we had such a good time.
We got to SA a week before the race, just in case anyone didn’t take the flight very well. We had training sessions, but we weren’t allowed to go out without the van following us. Us juniors had a completely different schedule to the elite riders. We were training Tuesday and Wednesday, qualifying Thursday and racing Friday.
The uplifts were done in such a way that you didn’t see anyone else on track. So we’d be the GB team all together, and you wouldn’t see anyone else, even if you stopped for 10 minutes. It was a good thing, ‘cos you couldn’t see someone go through and think ‘wow, she’s going fast!’ I did start to doubt myself a bit, and get a bit worried.
When it came to the actual race, I pulled back loads because I was so scared of crashing or doing something silly. It was my last chance of getting this title! I knew if I put a clean run in, and didn’t make any mistakes, and put my all into the sprint section I could do it. I’d prepared for it so much.
When I crossed the line, I knew I’d won. I can’t really describe the feeling. When I saw everyone’s faces – the whole GB crew, my dad – there was no need for me to look round at the board.
Yeah, a few tears came out, but it was more relief than anything else. I was happy, but I was more relieved and glad it was over. I’d been waiting all season for that one race.
Plans for the future
I have the most amazing backup – the people behind me have been there since the beginning and backed me 100%. I’d love to carry on just like this, but sometimes it’s not as easy as that – you need financial support, and other things.
It’s the off-season now; when I can eat what I want, do what I want, laze around and watch telly – for a while, anyway!
I’m planning on going full on this next race season, when I’ll be racing with the elites. I’ve got no school, so I’ll also be racing full time! I’ve got a new training program over the winter – so hopefully I’ll be coming in strong.
I think there’s only one thing on a racers mind, it’s not hard to tell – everyone wants to win!
It’s a big step coming from where I am now, but I’m ready to do what it takes. It might take me one year or five years, but I’m determined to get where I want to go. I’m going to give it my all.