One of the greatest parts of mountain bike racing is the community. Rarely do you see the opportunity to mingle and even race against some of the best riders in the world, when you’re just an average Joe. But that is what we get in mountain biking.
I was grabbing some food after finishing the Shenandoah 100 this year. Aaron Albright and I started talking with Jeremiah Bishop (Olympian and one of the best US mountain bike racers ever) who had won the race, setting a new record time. Over the past few years, Bishop has always hovered near the top of the standings in XC racing, winning a few of the US Cup races, but it never seemed like he had dominated the circuit. When he joined Topeak Ergon for 2015, it was clear that they wanted him racing the big endurance races all over world. If you look at his results from the 2015 season, it’s pretty obvious that with the freedom to focus on long course racing, that is where he shines and dominates. Listening to an athlete who spends every waking moment preparing themselves for racing is fascinating, as they often have insights you could never dream of.
Coming into Shenandoah, Bishop had just raced Leadville a month earlier. He had raced in support of two of his teammates and helped them both break the 6 hour mark for that 100 mile race, a feat no one thought possible. How did he help? He was the designated man to pull on the front into the wind on the flat sections and roads. Bishop was fully committed and got his teammates the time they needed to break the record. But unlike most domestiques, he didn’t limp in 30 minutes later. He was 3 minutes back at the end. 3 minutes behind the current world champion, after working for them all day. It would have been a Topeak Ergon podium sweep, but Bishop pulled Christoph Sauser the last 15k back to the finish line. They agreed to sprint side by side (no tactical drafting) and when Bishop pulled away, Sauser broke the agreement, hopped in his slipstream and used it as a slingshot to pip him on the line. Even still, not bad getting beat out by last year’s world champion.
Bishop also used aero bars at Leadville; quite an unorthodox choice. When he arrived in Colorado, his teammate Christian Hyneck didn’t see the value in the aero bars. So they ran a little test. While pre riding the closing 15k of the course, they agreed to ride side by side at the same speed. Bishop would stay in his aero bars and ride 300 watts, and Hyneck would stay in his normal flat bar position and ride whatever it took to match Bishop. The end result had Hyneck doing 40 more watts than Bishop for the same stretch of road. That’s significant.
Bishop would have won Leadville every previous edition of the race with his time this year. Lot’s of long training rides and intervals prepped him for what was a year filled with big races. One strategy Bishop noted in his training was muscle specificity in your bike position. Many riders will go do long rides on the road bike, and will take their mountain bikes into the woods to sharpen their skills. But Bishop was often training exclusively on his mountain bike, using it for his long road rides even, to maintain his body’s development in that exact position. With a wider bar and hand position, the shoulders, back, arms, core and neck are greatly impacted. Then you have the wider Q factor of a mountain bike that changes how the muscles respond to pedaling ever so slightly. But it all adds up. Let’s say that specificity makes a 1 minute or 0.2% difference over a 6 hour race. That is more than enough time to lose the race, and even be off the podium!
Every detail matters, which is exactly what you would expect from a multi-time Olympian. Bishop seems to have found the niche in mountain biking that fits him perfectly. Hopefully we will see him continue to do well against the best.