BACK IN THE DAY
Words by Mike Rose
It is a little known fact that World Cup racer and all-round mountain bike superstar Tahnée Seagrave rode on INTENSE bikes for 7 years at the start of her career. From 2006 to 2013 Tahnée rode a series of baby blue painted INTENSE frames – from her first 6.6 right through to the M9, which she took to Junior World Champs gold in 2013.
Tahnée Seagrave (age 11) as you’ve probably never seen her before. Baby blue INTENSE 6.6 special build, 2006.
“Jeff (INTENSE) was there when very few people believed in me. He invested in a kid, and not just any kid, a girl. He helped keep the dream alive. INTENSE was a huge part of getting me to where I am today, and it simply wouldn’t have been possible without them. I can’t thank Jeff enough.” Tahnée Seagrave
We wanted to know more, so we contacted Tahnée’s biggest fan… her dad. Tony and his wife Jo have sacrificed and given so much over the years to Tahnée and brother Kaos, but it is my guess that they wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Tony, so we’d like to go back to the start, could you paint a picture of the Seagrave household back in 2009/2010?
It was crazy, we were living in the village down from Morzine having moved there in 2004 to get away from the rat-race and allow my kids to grow up outside the house. I was still traveling back to London for work but I was also able to do more ‘online' work. We renovated an old house into a catered chalet and although it was not grand, we really wanted to attract more summer clients. The more riders that came, the more the kids were riding. Tahnée and Kaos would just want the snow to melt so they could get out on their bikes.
So you were based just outside Morzine and ‘living the life’. When did you first start to think that Tahnée could be world class, that she had real talent?
If only people knew the hard work, dedication and financial strain, but from the outside looking in, yes, we were ‘living the life’. Tahnée was a talented gymnast when we lived in the UK. In France she had to drop the gymnastics as there were no local clubs. She started to play handball at school and was really good at that but it was biking that had started to take over all other sports. Mountain biking brought freedom and enjoyment, plus in the summer it was all lift-assisted so it was even better! I loved taking the kids out for a ride as and when I could.
Ten year old Tahnée (back left) hanging out with the pros, Nigel Page and Vanessa Quin, 2005.
What bike was she riding in the very early days?
Tahnée had a Scott Voltage, but in 2005 Nige Page (then World Cup racer and INTENSE sponsored rider, now team manager of the CRC Nukeproof team) had been out to the chalet and suggested she was doing well on a hardtail but with the local terrain she needed an upgrade. He also mentioned the kids doing BMX to help with their skills… my wife would take them down to Geneva to the BMX club on her day off. They were obsessed with riding and bikes, biking, biking videos, bike magazines literally started taking over the house.
I’ve read Tahnée saying that INTENSE/Dirt team rider Vanessa Quin winning the 2004 World Championships in Les Gets was key, and from that point on she knew what she wanted to do?
It was bizarre, we went to the Word Champs in Les Gets that first year we moved to France. The crowd was insane and seeing VQ win and getting to meet her fueled some kind of fire in Tahnée.
Vanessa Quin was a huge influence on the young Tahnée, with the 2004 Les Gets World Champs becoming a pivotal moment for both of them. Photo: Mike Rose
“In the first year that we moved to France the Les Gets World Champs was on, I was only 9 years old at the time, and I’d only ridden a handful of times. It seemed like a really cool event so mum and dad took us to go and watch. We didn’t really know much about MTB or DH. The day before I had crashed on the famous Les Gets 4X track and Cedric Gracia and Steve Peat stopped to help me up haha! I remember being obsessed with all the women riders and I was running around the place getting signatures left, right and centre. The one rider that stood out to me the most was Vanessa Quin. She had literally just come down from her race run and was the new World Champion. I was leaning dramatically over the advertising hoardings that lined the finish arena watching her in awe waving my marker pen. VQ spotted me, and made signal to jump over. Dad threw me over. I ran past the security marshal and she signed my shirt, telling the marshal it was OK. The humbleness, kindness and open arms is something that has stuck with me ever since. She made a little Tahnée Seagrave the happiest girl in the world that day. A year on, she came to stay at the chalet and the first thing I did was show her my signed shirt.” Tahnée
Is that where the connection with INTENSE first began? How did that whole situation come about?
At the World Champs a friend of mine had set up a meeting with Nige. We invited him to do some rider weeks at the chalet and he came the following year with VQ in 2005 and that’s when they saw Tahnée riding the Scott. She was star-struck with Vanessa (the rainbow stripes), Nige and the way they both rode. It was at that point that Nige said that he would see if Jeff (Steber, INTENSE founder and CEO) had any thoughts on building a small DH bike for Tahnée – there was simply nothing available at that time.
Jeff and Nige put together a small INTENSE 6.6 with these old dual crown carbon Manitou forks. It had a 24” rear wheel and 26” front wheel, 155mm cranks etc. We did everything we could to make it fit.
Livin’ the dream. On the road with Vanessa Quin, 2007.
Vanessa famously rode a baby blue colored INTENSE to that World Champs victory.
Tahnée used to sit on VQ’s bike and imagine trying to ride it, I think we all decided then to make this mini version of her bike. So when Nige was talking to Jeff it was only ever going to be baby blue… and the color stuck. Throughout the years that Jeff supplied Tahnée with frames he would always send them sprayed in baby blue, often with personalized notes included. She loved it.
Tahnée’s first race at the Mom Avalanche in Les Arcs (France), where she finished in second place. Unfortunately the day after the race this bike was stolen.
So her first INTENSE was the 6.6, a bike that would be classed as an enduro bike now. Interestingly the bike was set up as a ‘mullet’ with a 26” on the front and a 24” on the rear.
The first bike we left completely to Nige to get sorted, as at that time we had zero connections within the industry. I can’t remember how much it cost but he did the best he could to help us, he pulled a lot of strings to get it made and the only way possible to make it work for her was with the 24” rear wheel and 26” front.
“I just couldn’t believe it. I was clueless, already stoked on what I had and never thought I deserved a bike like that. I was so shocked, and just stayed silent! I still can’t believe to this day that my parents, Nigel Page and Vanessa did this for me. It was just beautiful, and such a generous, thoughtful gesture. I knew how much of a struggle it would have been for mum and dad, so I really didn’t expect something like it. That bike was my absolute pride and joy.” Tahnée
Tahnée rode that bike for a while, then raced on it at a Mom Avalanche, but the day after that it was stolen... she was distraught. It was Tahnée’s life then, so as parents (and again with the help of Nige and Jeff), we went about building her another bike, this time really begging and borrowing, as we just did not have the money. Forks were always the issue and this time Jeff found some forks and painted them the same as the frame, she had grown a little so it was built up 26/26. It looked stunning.
Not a bad place to call home. Les Gets roof drop 2007.
As the years went by we realized that Tahnée loved riding, so we started to ask for more help. With three kids, two of them into DH, and when the products were not available or really expensive, it was tough. Jeff would start to supply the frames for free and we picked up Marzocchi as a suspension partner.
2008 and the Socom… baby blue of course.
She then rode the Socom after that?
We were now in a lucky position. As Jeff designed a new frame, he would paint one up baby blue and send it to Tahnée. So after the 6.6 came the Socom, then the 951 and from there she went onto the M9. We missed the other M series bikes as Tahnée was just not big enough at the time to handle a full-on DH bike.
Complete build, Socom 2008.
So the M9 was the bike that she rode to Junior world Championships gold in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa in 2013?
2012 was the first year on the World Cup circuit for Tahnée on a M9, and although the first World Cup ended in a DNF, she headed to the next race and qualified for the finals in Fort William (there was no junior category back then), where she finished in 14th (in Elite).
After the Socom came the 951 in 2010.
Tahnée was fastest junior for the series and was looking good going into the World Champs in Leogang. There was a girl from Canada (Holly Feniak) who absolutely smashed it though and beat Tahnée by a big margin. She was distraught, but the fire had now truly been lit, she wanted to be the very best at what she loved.
In 2012 Tahnée made it onto the GB World Championships team for the first time. The race in Leogang didn’t quite go to plan. Photo: Victor Lucas
The World Champs in Pietermaritzburg the following year was crazy. Back when we started, we had asked everyone to invest in our ethos of ‘follow my dream’: the journey of a young girl in a male dominated sport which could lead to the coveted rainbow stripes. After 2012 and the disappointment of coming second, there was no way that Tahnée was going to lose the race in South Africa. Her second year of racing was actually her first year using a trainer/coach (although Chris Kilmurray was wet behind the ears back then, ha!). They had a plan, and barring any mechanical, there was no option other than gold.
In 2013 it was World Championships gold and the rainbow stripes as Tahnée took the Junior title in South Africa. Photo: Laurence Crossman-Emms.
That baby blue M9 was a standard frame with zero World Champs graphics or colors (although Jeff did send a fresh frame and a personal note). Tahnée wanted to just go to SA and do the job without any fuss.
“That win was a huge relief, and a way for me to give back to the people that believed in me and had put in so much into getting me there. I know now that I didn’t need that win to make everyone proud, but it sure felt good.” Tahnée
It was not bad having a sister who was sponsored by INTENSE. Brother Kaos received all of Tahnée’s old bikes… and we know what happened next.
And Kaos had these bikes to ride as ‘hand me downs’?
Yes, Kaos lucked–out as he was now big enough to start riding all Tahnée’s old bikes… well he wasn’t, but he would just crack on back then, and try to stop near rocks as he couldn’t touch the ground! We used to get about three years out of a bike before they needed to be sold. Everything we sold went straight back into the riding and racing pot.
During the 2012 and 2013 seasons Tahnée rode the INTENSE M9.
Do you still have Tahnée's World Champs M9?
If only! Racing is expensive and there were only a few brands (back then) that had the foresight to invest in female racers. It is only the past few years that we have been in a position to keep some of our more valued bikes/frames. It was a tough decision to sell her World Champs winning bike but we needed to finance the racing and, as they say, racing is life. If it came up for sale, I am sure Tahnée would buy it back now.
Tahnée would have a strong season in 2013, still a junior but racing with the elite women. Twelfth here in Hafjell, Norway.
When did you set up FMD (Follow My Dream) and were INTENSE involved with that?
After 2012 I realized I could not help Tahnée anymore, and with Kaos being four years younger I thought she would benefit from riding with someone else. Not just for the riding but the camaraderie at the races. With the relationships we had now built up within the industry, I reached out (to Jeff first) to see if they would help with product if we took on another rider. We asked Mike Jones, as Tahnée had ridden with him at a UK event organized by RedBull UK, and FMD Racing (the team) was born. Mike actually ended up in third in the Junior Men at the Pietermaritzburg World Champs in 2012, so that was a great race for us.
Tahnée’s last race on INTENSE was the final round of the 2013 World Cup in Leogang, Austria. With a solid seventh place in the race she finished up in ninth place overall. Photo: Victor Lucas.
You and your family have devoted your life to mountain biking, and more specifically downhill, we are really pleased and proud that INTENSE have been part of your story.
Without INTENSE this journey might not have even happened, or it certainly would have been more difficult. As a family we could not be more grateful for how Jeff helped in those early years. Although Tahnée has moved to all shades of pink right now, you will see that ‘baby blue’ is, and will always be, our FMD ‘corporate color’.
Tahnée has gone on to win seven World Cup races and numerous World Championship medals. We are proud at INTENSE that we played a small part in her journey to greatness, and at just 25 years old she won’t be stopping anytime soon. Photo: Victor Lucas
All images supplied by Tony Seagrave/FMD Racing unless otherwise stated.