GETTING TO KNOW THE UNKNOWN
I’ve never known the family personally, but living in Morzine it becomes impossible not to know them by reputation at least. Head up to the innumerable tracks that surround the famous French town and its neighbour Les Gets on a summer’s day when the Seagraves are at home and you are most likely to become accustomed to the kids’ flair on a bike too.
FMD was founded as a way of attracting sponsorship for Tahnée, a vital lifeline to the mountain bike industry and a presence that I clearly remember for its bold statement: “Goal to become Junior World Champion” (which was later achieved in Pietermaritzburg, 2013). With the bar set high, expectations were equally so, but I respected both the family’s creative thinking (to attract attention and therefore sponsors) and their drive to succeed. Confidence is a fickle thing, but having witnessed a young Tahnée’s skills both first hand and in the MTB media it was clear there was more than just a spark, this was something special. As the dream has become reality, the coverage of Tahnée and the family-run team she represents has gone through the roof, and she has rapidly become one of the sport’s newest superstars, with FMD Racing a well-established team name on the circuit
Having had a full season at the sharp end of the Elite World Cup, Tahnée ended 2014 on a high with a third place at the World Championships in Norway, followed by a convincing win over World and World Cup Champion Manon Carpenter at the final race of the British DH season in Wales. Things are continually on the up for the Seagrave family, and while her younger brother is still not old enough to compete on the World Cup circuit, you can be sure he will be looking to follow in his big sister’s footsteps. We at Dirt thought it time to catch up with the Seagraves at home in the French Alps, now also third team member Neil Stewart’s summer-time base, and who better to tell the FMD story than the driving force himself: Team Manager and dad, Tony Seagrave.
THE DREAM ACCORDING TO TONY SEAGRAVE
An interview with FMD Team Manager, visionary, dad…
We moved to the Alps in 2003 and although the whole story is too long to explain, in a nutshell we were bored with London and didn’t want the kids growing up there. We decided on a village near Morzine. I had been on and off a bike since early life but when we moved I was able to get back on it more and it was great going for rides with all three of my kids (Tahnée, Kaos and Chevy). Back then I could beat them! It was some of the best times teaching and helping them to ride the mountains. Kaos was only four and if anyone knows Les Gets there is a farm run from the top of the old red bubble lift back to the village. My wife Jo used to bring Kaos down on a trailer bike as I was in charge of the other two, we got some funny looks taking it apart to put it on the lift.
Since she started riding Tahnée wanted to race. We heard about the Mom Avalanche races, so she entered a few. In those early races she was one of the youngest and always got beaten but it drove her on – Tahnée hates losing. When Kaos got old enough, racing in France changed a bit and there was not so much for him to race, the French also brought in some crazy rule (due to insurance) that kids in Juvenile had to race with single crown forks. He was always on Tahnée’s old bikes, so that didn’t help! So he is way behind Tahnée on race craft but he certainly has the skills.
Tahnée is super focused on what she wants, racing is what she lives for – she can get bored just riding her bike, but not if there is an end goal. She just wants to race. She used to get annoyed every year that it was her responsibility to look after Kaos on rides and wait for him. That has all changed now as he is getting faster and faster every year. He loves to go out and session Morzine with his mates, an ideal ride is going fast and pulling massive whips. We didn’t mean to do the whole race team thing, but even as young as 12 people had started to help Tahnée. She saw Vanessa Quin win the World Champs in Les Gets in 2004 and that was it, she wanted to become World Champ.
All my kids are athletic (from mum) – it’s a good base. I am the competitive one. It is not just this though, you have to be very single minded to become a world-class athlete in any sport. Never being that great myself I have always followed the 6Ps rule – Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance – give people with a passion the 6P support and it will allow them to realise their potential… but they also need to be very single minded.
In France, our personal situation meant we were constantly swimming against the tide, meaning we always had to ask people for help (have you seen the price of a DH bike?). We did a few little videos and emailed companies with Tahnée’s results, always trying to get decent pictures when and where we could. People in the trade just think you are a proud parent (which I was and still am today), so I decided early that if I were to ask for product and support I would have to detach myself as a parent and try to promote the bigger picture.
Oakley were first on-board as we knew someone who knew someone who ‘flowed’ her some product… but Tahnée could actually ride and she started backing up her own story and dreams with the skills on the trails. Nigel Page (ex-World Cup racer and now-Team Manager at CRC/Nukeproof) helped us build Tahnée a mini Intense DH Bike for her 13th birthday – everything was begging and borrowing back then.
Tahnée started showing some skills, more companies came on-board, and they were buying into her dream of becoming World Champion. Marzocchi were her first full sponsor and then Intense started helping out a bit more.
Our only clearly stated opinion was the fact that so many people had been involved in getting Tahnée on track that we felt we could not let them down. A couple of teams did come in for Tahnée before her first World Cup season in 2012, but we had asked so many people to help her “Follow My Dream” (to become World Champ), that we wanted to see it through.
THE EXTRA FAMILY MEMBER
We welcome everyone into the family – always. Other than Tahnée, Tom Duncan was our first success story. He was a uni lad who wanted to get into mechanics and the bike industry and develop products. It was a long shot but I asked if he wanted to work for us in our first World Cup season across Europe – we just gave him a bed and fed/watered him for the season. BINGO, he is now Steve Peat’s mechanic!
Then there was Mike Jones. Holy shit that boy was a gamble, I had studied his form, watched videos and I had seen him at races. Tahnée had seen Mike at a Red Bull camp and knew what he could do if he was given the right support, and I knew we could do that. Mike finished the 2013 season third at World Champs and second overall in the first ever UCI World Cup Junior series.
I had it in the back of my mind that Mike would be going, even though I tried to talk him into staying and was totally gutted when he left, but I am no Sam Hill! (Jones moved to the CRC/Nukeproof team where he rides alongside Hill and has excelled in 2014 as a first-year Elite.) For me it was such a shame as Mike, Tahnée and Neil Stewart would have been an awesome team, but that gets us back to funding and a whole different article.
Neil had quite a bad second year in youth but I had studied his form and there were a couple of spikes in his performances. I had seen a few videos and because of where we live, I invited him out to stay for a couple of weeks last summer. He slept on the floor but was living the dream, the kid was amazing. Mike, Tahnée and Kaos all said he was awesome on a bike but not only that, he was a great kid (back then he even used to clean his own bike).
Obviously, I then took on this unknown rider for 2014 (#whoisneilstewart). The difficult bit is trying to persuade sponsors to take a gamble with me on that unknown rider. He did amazingly in Norway. We had been telling Neil for a long time (since his third in Cairns) that he had what it takes, he just had to let it go. Cairns was actually a bit different as he needed to ride “safe” to get third – he did that without too much knowledge, just great skill.
The team is just an extended family. Tahnée sent Neil a great text before his start in Norway. He was second fastest at the first split before his crash and he was gutted at the finish (although he still out-whipped the whole field). I took him away from the finish line and we sat in a quiet corner. He was so gutted but he said, “That’s it, I have found the limit and I know what I have to do.”
THE SACRIFICES FOR RACING
My wife and I have made huge personal and financial sacrifices, and yes it has led to huge success, with the next step to make it financially stable. You cannot really describe the emotions that go with this because you really do have to be on the edge of it to understand it. I am so glad the riders are up the hill for warm ups 40 minutes before race because, honestly, 15 minutes before that final run I am a wreck. I think I then become a parent because I feel responsible… I feel the same for Neil, his parents have left me in charge of their boy who is about to ride down a mountain as fast as he can – rocks, roots, trees, jumps – it is one of the gnarliest sports in the world. It is tough. I also constantly have to put my pride out the window and ask people for money or help.
AT THE RACES
Sometimes race weekends flow really well, sometimes so many things can go wrong, and I really think this is where I thrive. In the pressure situations of “getting shit sorted.” Although that pressure sometimes explodes.
After qualifying in Windham this season I lost it with both the riders, we had been on the road for nearly two weeks and a few things outside our control were not how I wanted them. Both Tahnée and Neil finished sixth in qualifying, which was not bad, but their times were terrible and although I knew both of them were pissed off, I felt as though the vision was lost a little.
Come finals and as usual Tahnée gained the most amount of time from qualifying to race. She finished in fifth and Neil had his second best run of the season, ending up fourth. The riders will say it was nothing to do with what we/I said but for me that chat was one of the best times this season: sat outside the condo with the sun shining chatting about riding, racing and what needs to be done.
THE TEAM BEHIND THE TEAM
With my knowledge, I knew I could only take the team so far and that I could only work with my family so far; I would need help. Everyone involved with the team excels at what they do and we are very lucky to have found them.
In Tahnée’s first year I helped her train. She was still at school but I honestly knew I wasn’t the best person to help her and we needed to find that person. Chris Kilmurray runs Point1Athletic. He had vision and a progression philosophy to athlete training that really impressed Tahnée and I. He was also local so could help her in the gym and even though he is qualified, he is constantly willing to learn, listen and experiment. Not just for his athletes, as everything he does also fits into the whole team. He is worth his weight in gold.
Sarah Muir, now-Assistant Manager, has just been a huge help. She expressed an interest to get involved after Jo shared a car journey from Morzine to Leogang with her last season. She is a business grad and has run a successful women’s race series (Diva Descent) helping the sport at grass roots level, making next to nothing. As I have said, I have to do two jobs to run the team and just having that extra help has been invaluable.
Matt our mechanic… not even the riders realise how passionate he is about the team and his “babies”. I do, because he sends me his invoice and I don’t know how he puts food on the table! He runs a small bike fixing business in Surrey and dedicates the rest of his time to us.
There is one person who puts more in than anyone: Jo. She is the one that lets/makes this happen. She is an amazing cook too… she has cooked for quite a few of the World Cup teams and has certainly helped with our nutrition. She and Chris have really changed the way our team eat – both Mike and Neil’s diets were very “teenage” when they joined.
We have also had Robbie Giles do some filming and he is getting better and better with each video. He has a great relationship with the riders, which I think is really important to get the best footage. I would love him to do more, it is just tough always asking him to do it for giggles, food and water, although he does love us!
I would love to keep expanding but it is purely for financial reasons that we don’t. I have my eye on a kid at the moment for next year, his results have been good but erratic. Give him that FMD Racing love and he WILL be a top-10 junior next year.
Where are we heading? The first thing I want to do is get everyone paid properly! Then we are open to offers. I think we will always be stronger if we stay together, but never say never. We do not want to work year-on-year anymore, we would like the security of longer contracts so we can truly help the riders and have an even clearer vision moving forward.
2014 was fantastic: Tahnée’s first year in Elite did not take us by surprise. Plus, from us not expecting too much from Neil, to where he actually ended the season (seventh in the Junior World Cup overall) – wow.
Believe me, we will not stop: it’s in our blood. Those last couple of races – the World Champs and British Downhill Series finals – have really fuelled Tahnée’s fire. She is fed up of starting the season slowly so has moved to Sheffield for the winter, hooking up with our old mechanic Tommy D and various other scallywags in them hills. It will do her good, Chris and I had spoken about it for some time and she made the decision before we even spoke to her. It will help her all-round, not just as an athlete but also as a person. Do I think Tahnée and Kaos will always be on the team? I hope so; we are trying to build a business.
We are also talking with a sponsor and trying to get Neil re-located down south for the winter so we shall see how that goes… both he and Tahnée were on the edge of something special all season. Tahnée’s third at Worlds proved that; not only the bronze medal but also the time gap she closed on Manon Carpenter and Rachel Atherton.
With Tahnée building speed and results towards the end of the 2014 season, it is clear that she is motivated to continue on her upward spiral. Neil Stewart appears firmly at home with FMD and the influence the Seagraves have had on his career in the space of one short season has been astronomical. Serious plans for winter and a team keen on working closely together towards a common goal, fuelled almost entirely by passion, leaves the impression that we are likely to see big things coming in 2015.