It’s been an important week for Team Novo Nordisk with the team riding aggressively on stages of the Tour of California and Kevin de Mesmaeker netting a fine third place on day four of the race.
The Belgian was part of a breakaway move which finished over a minute clear of the main bunch into Cambria, and showed that the team has made good progress. It follows on from a good ride in the Presidential Tour of Turkey, where Javier Megias took tenth on the second mountain stage and finished fourteenth overall.
The team is a long term project which is aiming to show that those with type one diabetes can not only live a normal life, but can also compete at a very high level in sport. The requirement that only diabetic riders can be signed to the squad makes things more testing in terms of taking on the big teams in cycling; not only do the riders have to carefully monitor their blood sugar and insulin levels while racing, but the team also has a much smaller pool of talent to draw.
Still, team CEO Phil Southerland has said that the team has ambitious goals for the medium and long term future, with the aim being to once again show the world – and other diabetics too – that those with the type one condition can excel in sport.
CyclingTips spoke recently to Southerland about the team, its goals and its ambitions. He attended the Presidential Tour of Turkey where his riders rode aggressively, where Megias showed he was amongst the strongest climbers and where sponsors travelled to see the team in action.
“For those who don’t know, every rider who rides for Team Novo Nordisk has Type 1 diabetes. Ten years ago you weren’t supposed to exercise with this disease, and now here the guys are racing against the best in the world. It is amazing,” he said in the video interview above, speaking at the end of the final stage in Istanbul.
“These guys are heroes for the 380 million people in the world who have this disease, and they race to educate, power and inspire all with the disease.”
Southerland commended Megias on his strong ride in the race and so too the riders who mixed it with the more experienced teams. He said he was looking forward to seeing how the team could perform in the Tour of Azerbaijan and this week’s Tour of California; after that, he said there were a number of big targets.
“We are excited to be back in the Philly Classic…that is a good race for us in the hometown. Then off to Beauce and Korea, which is the end of the first half of our year,” he said. “We will then start strong with the Tour of Denmark then the Tour of Utah, Colorado, USA Pro Challenge and some races in Asia.
“And there’s one big surprise race in the second half of the year, but we can’t say it just yet.”
Further ahead, Southerland said that the team is clear in its objectives. They include taking part in the biggest annual sporting event in the world, a participation which would earn huge media coverage for the team, its philosophy and its sponsors.
“In terms of our long term goals…there is one race in the world that everyone knows and that is the Tour de France,” he said. “Insulin was invented in 1921 That is what keeps our athletes alive. That is what keeps people with diabetes alive. And so to celebrate the 100th year of the existence of insulin, we want to put this all diabetic team, Team Novo Nordisk, into the Tour de France.”
Asked if it was possible that the participation could happen earlier than 2021, he wasn’t ruling it out. Before then, though, he wants the riders to compete in another three week race within the next two seasons.
“We will have to wait and see how the next or two goes but we would definitely like to be in a Grand Tour by 2016. If we can earn a spot in the Tour, we will gladly take it before 2021, but I don’t want to push it too prematurely. We have to show up ready and do it justice when we get there.”
Those goals will of course depend on the team having the necessary budget to continue. While the current contract has under two years remaining, Southerland sounds confident that it should be renewed.
“The contract is through 2015 right now. We are in great contact with our sponsor, they are so inbred into the sport now,” he said. “There is a sponsor here in the Tour of Turkey, there is a sponsor in Italy, Mexico, Spain and races all around the world. They are really seeing this sport and these athletes as a platform to educate, empower and inspire people with diabetes.
“They are excited about 2021, they want to see us in the Tour de France and they also take a very long term view for success. It has been a great partnership to date with Novo Nordisk and I can see that going for many years in the future.”