Although he wears the Team Yukon jersey, mountain bike racer Daniel Sessford didn’t set foot in the territory during the racing season.
Being away from home is part of the job, and it’s something he’s getting used to.
For the past two summers, Sessford based himself in Quebec City while competing in national level races.
“It made sense to go there, over half the races were in Quebec — two Canada Cups, the Quebec cup and world cup races,” said Sessford on Thursday, at his parents’ home in Riverdale.
He’s in Whitehorse recuperating for the next month, but will head to Kelowna to train for the winter.
It’s a nomadic and solitary life for the up-and-coming racer.
“I don’t have a coach with me, but I can call (Whitehorse coaches) Grant Owen, Alain Masson and Derek Crowe, and there’s always the national training centre coaches,” he said.
“I actually like it that way, because I get a lot of different opinions and I can choose the one I like best.”
During the racing season, Sessford described the day-to-day existence as “boring … you race once a week, take one day off, and train the other five.”
With so much downtime, he’s starting to get a handle on life in Quebec, he said.
“Most nights I’d go watch elite soccer, or hang out with other racers.”
Sessford competes in the senior elite division, which is the top level of racing. Olympic athletes and world champions compete at this level.
“The competition is intense, the racing is way faster, there’s always someone there to jump in front, no breaks — it’s pretty much all out for two hours,” he said.
“Fitness is really important, with all the climbing,” he added.
He prefers to train on road, working on his cardio and endurance.
The technical aspects of mountain biking are important as well, being able to handle rocky, rooty trails at top speed.
“Some of it can be really technical, but I actually found it more difficult to walk it than riding it,” he laughed.
“You can’t be thinking about it, you just have to go — if you crash, you crash hard — but if you don’t crash, you’re going really fast.”
His dedication is leading to results; this season he finished the Canada Cup series in 18th position, and his best finish was 11th at the last race in Mount Washington.
Last year he finished somewhere in the 30s, after opting to compete at the Canada Summer Games instead of continuing with the Canada Cup series.
He won a bronze at the Games for Yukon.
Although Sessford receives money from the Yukon High Performance Athlete Assistance Fund, his lifestyle is far from lavish.
“Most of that money goes to travel for sure,” he said. “I can’t really work during the summer, because of all the travelling — and this winter I’m going to try training full time.”
He worked at Sportslodge last winter to help offset costs for the racing season, but next year he hopes his cycling will bring in some cash.
He’s hoping to join a road cycling team in the Lower Mainland in the spring, “There’s a lot more cash in road, and the expenses are covered,” he said.
There’s a lot of road races in the spring, and then mountain biking starts … it could work.”
Sessford did this road/mountain shuffle once before in the 2004 season, and although it requires a little more planning he said it’s bound to improve his results.
He also hopes his top-20 finish on the Canada Cup circuit will bring some equipment sponsors his way.
In the meantime, he’s getting ready for the King of The Canyon race in Whitehorse in September.
He’s also planning to strap on some cross-country skis, to race for Yukon for the Canada Winter Games in February.
His ultimate goal, like many amateur athletes, is the Olympics.
“I don’t know about 2008 — I’d have to move up in the national ranking by about 15 spots,” he laughed.
He has his sights set on 2012, and he should be hitting his peak at the right time.
Like most endurance sports, athletes tend to peak in the late 20s or early 30s.
With steady improvement over the last five years, Sessford is confident in his path to success.
“I’ll be at this for quite awhile, I think,” he said. “I can go to school later.”