Bishop going fast and having fun in early mountain bike season

Jeremiah Bishop has focused the more recent years of his career more on endurance racing, but this spring he's been proving that he is still fast in the cross country and short track distances. The Sho-Air/Cannondale Team rider has gotten the 2013 season off to a strong start and is currently leading the US cross country national mountain bike series, the Pro XCT.

"It's been a fantastic early season. It couldn't have gone much better than it has," said Bishop to Cyclingnews. "I'm going fast and having fun. I'm ecstatic to have a renaissance on my short game."

Bishop didn't think he'd be riding quite as well as he has been. "Every race of the season, I've been at the front or in the sprint for the win." He was second at the Mellow Johnny's Classic, first at the Bonelli Park cross country and second at the Fontana cross country.

Although he said he is only doing the short tracks "for training", Bishop, a former short track national champion, finished second at both Bonelli Park and Fontana. "I'm riding conservatively and trying to save face. The cross country races are more important."

When asked how he managed to get so fast this spring despite a tough winter in his home state of Virginia, Bishop said, "There were a lot of cold hands and feet. Being in Virginia, we had one of the toughest late winters in recent memory. There was a lot of snow."

Change of plans

While Bishop had hoped to start off his season on a strong note, the pressure increased on him to do so after his Sho-Air/Cannondale teammates were sidelined by injury.

"A lot of the responsibility for the new team rested on me with Max [Plaxton] out due to knee surgery and Pua [Mata] injured [with a broken ankle] at Mellow Johnny's. I was taking it seriously and was very focused. I was doing the best I could to be focused early and sharp. The team wanted me to ride well at Mellow Johnny's and the opening few races of the season."

Bishop will race the next Pro XCT round at Sea Otter, but after that he's not sure of his schedule.

"I'm personally interested in trying to win more races more than trying to win the series," he said. "But leading the series, I have to wonder how long I can keep leading it. I think I can fit a few more stage races in on top of the series."

After the Whiskey Off-Road later this month, Bishop will sit down with his team and figure out his schedule for the rest of the season. By then, Plaxton and Mata should be back in action, which may give him the chance to do some of his favorite endurance races.

"Long distance races are my favorites."

He is considering stage races such as the Trans-Sylvania Epic or the BC Bike Race as well as marathon Worlds.

A long Pro XCT season

With the Pro XCT expanded to nine rounds this year and all of them counting, elite racers are struggling with how to balance the desire to do well at national series races with all the other races on the calendar.

"There are more race participant days available now in America than there ever have been - everything from enduro races to 100-mile races to stage races. There are all these opportunities to ride your bike," said Bishop. "They are adding more and more events to the calendar without a premier pro series. It brings dilution of the pro aspect of the sport. It makes it difficult for the top riders from the top teams to come togehter for the biggest events of the years. Sea Otter and nationals are the big ones in the US, but the Pro XCT series is waning. I can say that having been a stage race specialist and going to so many NUEs last year and seeing all the people at those events."

Bishop thinks having nine rounds of the Pro XCT is "foolish". "Because of the international schedule, it doesn't make sense. For example, there were Pan Am champs this weekend and some folks chose to do that race and they were looking at an unrealistic amount of travel to also do Fontana. It's a bit unfortunate, and I think it's part of a broader issue nationally and to some degree globally."

He has noticed how pros in Europe tend to pick the top races of the various national series such as the BMC Cup in Switzerland or the Bundlesliga in Germany rather than focus on any one country's series. He sees the North American riders migrating toward the same approach.

"I think it's evolving in the US to be more like Europe where riders pick the best races, regardless of the series," he said.

"I think it's an exciting time to be in mountain bike racing, but we need to have a rudder. There are so many races, but there needs to be a direction to the pro side of the sport."

"What I would like to do is follow up with Todd [Wells] and see if we can both skip the same races and redefine what the series is."

Wells won the most recent round of the Pro XCT in Fontana and is current second in the Pro XCT series. Bishop picked the Specialized rider as his toughest competition for the series overall.

"Todd Wells and I are the guys to watch," said Bishop. " With his pedigree, I have the utmost respect for him. Todd is a complete rider with tactical acumen. He is current short track national champion and has best-ever US Olympic men's finish. It's a great challenge to race him and I'm having fun at the races."

Both Bishop and Wells will face off again at the Sea Otter Classic, which is the next round of the Pro XCT, during the third weekend of April.

See an interview with women's Pro XCT leader Chloe Woodruff (Crankbrothers Racing).

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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.