Jeremiah Bishop: Coming into form

In the mountains of western North Carolina, 31 year-old Jeremiah Bishop logged his third-ever NMBS...

An interview with Jeremiah Bishop, August 2, 2007

Jeremiah Bishop (Trek / VW) took top honours at the National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) round 5 event held last weekend in North Carolina. The "Showdown at Sugar" was more like a showdown in mud, but that didn't deter Bishop, who had finished second behind Adam Craig at the wet and slippery USAC National Mountain Bike Championships cross country event the previous weekend in Mount Snow, Vermont. Cyclingnews' Sue George spoke with Bishop after his NMBS win.

In the mountains of western North Carolina, 31 year-old Jeremiah Bishop logged his third-ever NMBS win, and his first in 2007. He won the final NMBS series event last year in Aspen, Colorado, and his first win came in Waco, Texas, in 2004. This latest victory marked a return to form after battling a mid-season illness; Bishop is aiming for a strong remainder of 2007, during which he hopes to show himself one of the top American contenders for the 2008 Olympic team.

"It was kind of a surprise. I didn't expect the win would be here of all places - after I had a rough June," said Bishop, who sat out both World Cups in Canada due to a respiratory illness. "While [Geoff] Kabush was winning a bronze medal at Mont Ste. Anne, I was sitting in bed. Last weekend [at US Nationals in Mount Snow], I got second, but I felt like my legs weren't really there yet."

The illness had only added to his motivation. "To look at the bright side of the coin, I had planned on taking a mid-summer break anyway to recharge. When you have to sit on a bench, it really drives home how much you want to be out there racing and how much you really miss it and want it."

When national champion Adam Craig (Giant) charged off the start line in North Carolina, Bishop knew he had to follow and not let him get away. "The racing started right away. There was no drafting or sitting on. I knew I had to mark Adam. I followed him. He was scorching the first lap, and we immediately started to pull away from everyone."

At the top of the 1,300 foot climb, at an elevation of 5,100 feet, the duo disappeared into the fog, getting ready for a slippery descent to be negotiated during each of the six mile laps. "It rained in the days prior to the race. The course was treacherous," said Bishop. "The two main sections of singletrack were the hardest in the national series so far this year, even harder than Mount Snow. It was nasty. There were a lot of crashes. It made for some hair raising moments."

"We started the downhill. It was like octopus feet everywhere. I could tell Adam was loving it," said Bishop. "I was trying not to crash. We came through lap one near each other."

When asked if the slippery, technical conditions favored east coast riders like himself, Bishop said, "I think the conditions being technical and slippery gave me a little bit of an advantage, but it's been really dry. Where I live [in Harrisonburg, Virginia], I haven't ridden in mud in months. Last weekend, I relearned some of the tricks and this weekend, I felt like I could ride in the mud again."

He led into the climb on lap two of four total laps, and Craig started to fall back. During the second lap's descent, the Trek / VW rider had a bit of a scare as he was chased by a three-man group. "At the end of lap two, I had a minor crash and lost a little of my rhythm. The chase group closed to within 20 seconds, after I'd had a much larger gap.

"Geoff Kabush [Maxxis] was coming out of the three-man chase group at alarming pace. JHK [Subaru / Gary Fisher] was also in there, and Barry Wicks [Kona] was in there, too. Kabush made a concerted effort to close down my lead. I knew it was important for me to keep the pressure on the whole race because he has such finishing power." Bishop showed nothing but respect for the enduring tenacity of Kabush, who was crowned Canadian National Champion again last week and has been dominating the NMBS throughout 2007.

Bishop suffered a cramp in his left hamstring after his crash and a banged up knee and shoulder, but he was determined. "Going out into the last lap, Kabush closed down [the gap] to 10 seconds, but my goal was to never let him make contact. I went full out for the first half of the climb on the final lap straight up the black diamond ski slope, and I opened up about 20 seconds."

"I just buried it and got the gap open to almost a minute at the top of the climb. I knew I didn't want Geoff anywhere near me," said Bishop. "But I didn't know how much of a lead I had until the course looped back on itself. Then I knew I had a shot at holding it. I felt awesome."

"I went gingerly down the last descent - I wanted to get down safely. By then, it was raining. I lost a few seconds, but I still won by about a minute. I knew the descent wasn't going to win me the race, but it could have lost me the race."

In slimy conditions, equipment can be an important factor. Bishop made two key choices, "I put some mean mountain bike tires on. Sometimes we race on some pretty narrow, smooth tires, but I picked full-on mountain bike tires. Despite the rolling resistance, it paid off on the downhill. I also rode a hardtail. The course had more climbing per distance than any other continental race we've done."

Specific preparation

Bishop has learned that he races best when he prepares very specifically for an event. He employed this strategy to take an impressive ninth place last fall at the World Championship in Rotorua, New Zealand, and he used the same strategy to prepare for Nationals last weekend.

"Last year, when I heard nationals would be based in Mount Snow for three years, it became a high priority for me. I wanted to win, if not this year, one of the three years. So for nationals this year, I found a course profile from a GPS, and I recreated a similar course at [local venue] Massanutten."

"When you have limited time and resources to train - I learned this when working two jobs and trying to race - targeting the exact conditions in the race is important. If you have an Ironman and it's going to be 110 degrees and hot, nothing beats training in the heat. I put together a six mile course at Massanutten with similar amount of climbing. It helped me prepare despite missing several weeks of training in June. With a proper lead in and a little bit of luck, I think I can win it [next year or the year after]."

Bishop will next employ his specific training technique by heading out to Colorado a few weeks early to acclimate to the altitude before the NMBS series final in Aspen, where he hopes to defend last year's win.

Finishing off the Season

In the meantime, Bishop will head to the Wilderness 101 this coming weekend. "I love long distance races. It'll be fun racing Chris [Eatough]. I haven't raced him awhile, and there will be plenty of good competition." The race is part of the National Ultra Endurance Series of 100 milers.

After Aspen, Bishop is hoping to represent the US at the World Championships in Fort William, Scotland. "I think World Championships selection is supposed to happen this week. I'll put in a nomination request."

"I'll do the World Cup finals [in Maribor, Slovenia] in September, and I'm hoping to be selected for the Beijing [Olympic] test event. Only three athletes can go. I really want to go to that event, and I feel like my form is on the rise. It would be valuable to go." Bishop is aiming for one of the coveted spots on the US Men's Olympic team for 2008.

He has already proved that he's overcome the serious crash he suffered during the second stage of La Ruta last November, when he face planted into the ground and fractured his upper jaw. He had to withdraw from the race and was hospitalized afterward.

For a good cause

Bishop announced earlier this week that he had contributed his winnings from his NMBS #5 win to World Bicycle Relief, an organization that provides access to independence and livelihood through the power of bicycles.

"Donating my prize money is a way I can share the benefits that I've enjoyed from a lifetime of riding bicycles," Bishop said. "I believe the bicycle is a practical answer to many of our world's problems, and this is demonstrated by the success of World Bicycle Relief projects."

Bishop's donation go toward major project underway in Zambia, Africa. The project involves providing 26,000 bicycles to trained HIV/AIDS healthcare workers and educators. The objective is to bring healthcare to patients, patients to clinics, and preventative care education to communities. This project will require two years and US$2,969,000.

"I encourage others to match my donation," Bishop said promising to send his race-winning number plate and an autographed jersey to the first person to donate US$380 to the World Bicycle Relief.

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