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Jeremiah Bishop has stepped up to the top level of the Cannondale Factory Team for 2012 as he tries to make the US Olympic Team for the 2012 London Olympic Games in August. The mountain biker was named to the US Olympic Long Team last fall and is among those riders competing for one of two male spots on the finalized US Olympic Team.
"I'm on the official UCI elite team roster for Cannondale Factory Racing this year," Bishop, 35, told Cyclingnews during his team's camp in Finale Ligure, Italy, on Wednesday. "Last year I was a guest rider because I had focused on stage races and endurance events before that."
While many riders of Bishop's age and experience are moving from cross country to marathon-type racing, Bishop went the other way. Yes, he used to race World Cup cross countries, but in recent years he had switched to the endurance side of the sport of mountain biking. However, with the Olympic Games looming on the horizon, he decided to give it one more shot at getting there after having never previously qualified for the US Olympic team.
"At this point the Olympics is an opportunity I can't afford to pass up," he said. "I know what I'm best at and what I love, but to represent team USA at the Olympics would be an incredible lifetime achievement.
"Last year was an experiment (going back to cross country racing) and it went great," he said. "I had a fantastic early season and started off with some wins and proved myself."
In 2011, Bishop came out on fire to start the season at the early US Pro XCT races. The performances signalled his return to Olympic-style racing and got him the attention he needed to be selected for the US team headed to the 2011 Pan Am Games. He got back to racing World Cups and earning the points needed to move up the starting grid.
"I wanted to come in hot and say I'm back," said Bishop. "The sooner I could make that statement to USA Cycling, the more seriously I thought they'd take me for this year. I wanted to say I could be good in spring and good in August. I was fourth at the Olympic Test Event (in July).
"There's no doubt that if I can have the form I had last year at the right times, I can do it," he said about his racing with the best at the elite level of cross country racing. "For me, it's a matter of changing the training. My training is cross country-based, high power, and anaerobic. It's less all day bike rides. I'll be back to that soon enough. I've learned a lot about how to train, and I'm fortunate to be able to race both."
While Bishop's focus is back to cross country racing, especially as he pursues Olympic team selection, he won't entirely forgo his love of racing marathons and stage races.
"I still plan on doing some stage races, but number one (priority) is cross country performance at the World Cups. The first four are qualification for the Olympics. I need to try to punch my ticket. After that, if I've made the team or not, and I'll do Trans-Sylvania and maybe one 100-mile race."
It's been a good winter for Bishop for training, and he says he is in good form for this time of year. "The East Coast of the US had fantastic spring-like weather all winter. I was able to pour on great miles with the comfort of being at home. I've been very focused and it's been great to have good support from family. But it's not like I'm there being a 100 percent normal dad right night because I've been hyper-focused on training and recovery."
Bishop will kick off his 2012 season of racing with the Mellow Johnny's Classic in Texas on Saturday. It is the first US Pro XCT race. He will then have a weekend off as he travels to South Africa for the opening round of the UCI World Cup in Pietermaritzburg.
He may do some other US Pro XCT races. "There are other US Pro XCT races on my calendar, but they are not as high priority. I'd love to go back to Bonelli Park, but it's too much travel. I don't want to gamble on being 11 hours off the time zone of South Africa."
Bishop will not arrive in South Africa in time for the pre-World Cup test event, and it is his first time racing at that particular World Cup venue.
Being more picky about which and how many races he does is something Bishop learned from his other tries at making the US Olympic team.
"The biggest thing I learned from the Olympic selection process previously is not to overextend myself. In 2004, I had my best shot at it. I was rocking, and my form was great - top 10 at World Cups. But if you don't save it and you race yourself into the ground, you only have so many 100 percent performances. That's why I'm just thinking about the World Cups and getting there rested, focused and fit."
Regardless of what happens with the Olympics, Bishop, a former marathon and short track national champion in 2008, said, "I hope to honor the team and rise to the occasion. I want to put out some of the best American finishes for CFR. It's exciting to be racing for them. They have a high level of technical support and professionalism."