The elite DH World Cup racer talks pressure, creativity, social media. Interview with Aoife Glass.
2021 is looking good for Tahnée Seagrave. After several seasons of injury and recovery, she’s returned to what is hopefully going to be a more normal World Cup race season in good health, good condition, and the top step of the podium.
We caught up with Seagrave a few days before her World Cup win in Les Gets to talk about how she manages the pressures of racing, the highs and lows of social media and how she expresses herself through it, her interest in freeride and her 2021 goals.
What does it feel like to be back racing what will hopefully be a more normal season for 2021?
I had brand new emotions and feelings this year. First, I’d been injured, had come back from injury, got injured again, came back from that again, but into a season that wasn’t normal  – and I was coming back to girls who had fully taken the opportunity and gone up a level in riding. I spent the winter riding loads, but in the UK it was really hard for us to get away, so we didn’t have any test camps and the weather here was atrocious!
So there was a lot of uncertainty going into this season for me, and I wasn’t feeling very confident in myself.
How do you manage that? Are you doing mental training alongside physical training?
Yeah, I speak to a sports psychologist and he’s really good, but I’m an overthinker. I’m constantly tired because of it, so I’m working on being in the here and now, and emptying my mind a bit, but I find it very difficult!
Originally, the only thing that brought me that peace was the start gate, or dropping into a race run, but obviously I haven’t been able to ride that much over the past couple of years. The less I’ve ridden, the more insane I thought I’ve been going!
That’s why I took up sewing and other little hobbies, because when I do that stuff, I don’t really think about my training or where I’m at, or my worries. It’s like, not only am I training full time, but I’m also training my brain, which gets super overwhelming, so anything I can do to switch off, and particularly when I use my creative side, I find it really helpful and relaxing.
So many riders look up to you; you’re an inspiration and an icon. Do you have a sense of that and does it add pressure?
It’s a bit odd for me because I haven’t had that many races for various reasons for a while so I haven’t seen any of the fans; I’ve just been in my little bubble. But in the last few years while I’ve had to step back from racing my Instagram following kept growing, and I thought ‘I do have influence here’.
It doesn’t add pressure but I do feel I have a duty to be honest and portray a good person, who I’d want to see, hence why I try so hard to break stereotypes. I know people, especially kids, look at the racing and they’ll see me in a load of colour, lots of girly stuff, and see it’s not just a male dominated sport, and hopefully think that this is for everyone.
Your sense of style is definitely on show in your kits and on Instagram. Is that a conscious decision, to put your personality out there more?
Yes, definitely! The wild and creative kits came before I showed my own personal style because at the time that was more acceptable. And now I have the World Cup wins to back it up so it doesn’t really matter what I look like or dress like, because at this point I’ve proven myself. I know that sounds horrible, but as a female in this sport you kind of have to do that step first.
There’s a saying; ‘if you’re good you’re not pretty and if you’re pretty, you’re not good’ and I just want to rip that down and get rid of that completely. If you want to look pretty and ride bikes, that’s fine. I love the girls that get their nails done at the weekend and then are riding and rolling around in the mud. That doesn’t mean you’re any less of a rider. You don’t have to be just one or the other. So I do use my platform to express myself in that way, and with that has come the confidence to show myself off the bike as well.
But I still get comments on Instagram that are like ‘stop posting pictures of yourself and show more riding’. In comparison to the good messages, they’re minor, but I like to share the bad stuff because I’m thick skinned, because what if someone younger who hasn’t been through what I’ve been through, or doesn’t have the support network gets them? It might put them off for life! So I want to say ‘look, even when you’ve won this many World Cups and you try your best everyday and you train full time, you’re still going to get people who don’t like you!’
I also get a lot of messages saying ‘thank you, you’ve really helped me be myself in the sport,’ and I love those! I try to give a lot of advice for young riders and racers, and share information.
Do you think there’s been a shift for athletes in the importance of results versus exposure, and where do you think the balance point between the two is?
Definitely! People make careers out of social media now; my best mate Vero is paid to do freeride and post on social media, so there’s definitely the market for it. I do feel like some of the sponsors get super-lucky with the racers because they almost get a two-in-one package; they get results, and they also get really high-profile social media.
The exposure it provides is mad and it’s helping a lot of people, like riders we didn’t know about before we know about now – the amount of talent coming through on social media is huge!
And social media means more people can connect and go riding, especially women. You can get a lot more involved in something and find people who are similar to you.
I don’t think it’s taken away from the racing at all, I just think it’s a brand new market and it’s good for the sport.
You were part of the first Red Bull Formation, the women’s freeride event in Utah – is that a creative side to your riding you’d like to explore more?
I’ve always been a racer, and I’ve always loved to compete, but I think I’ve always had a different riding style. I just love having fun on my bike, and I spend a lot of time with Vero and the boys and all they want to do are tricks, so I had to acclimatise to their type of riding! If not, I’d be riding on my own all the time. I could always do little scrubs, and growing up in Morzine, there are a lot of jumps here, but it was never a focus of mine and when I got invited to Formation I was quite surprised.
Since then though I’ve been thinking ‘this is really fun and I enjoy this side of riding’ … but it’s not like I’m saying I want to be a freerider right now.
What are your goals for 2021?
Until now it’s been hard for me to set goals, which is why I think I’ve felt a little bit lost. But with the season starting up again, I would love to build back up, and to be number one again, that would be the cherry on the cake! But it’s going to be a lot of work so the first part of the season is just that hard work, then I’ll hopefully smash through that barrier and the results will come.