In his fifth year with Team Novo Nordisk, 24-year-old Stephen Clancy has already amassed a list of accolades including Cycling Ireland’s ‘Domestic Rider of the Year’. He earned his career best finish at a UCI 2.1 race in 2015 when he sprinted to fourth place on Stage 3 of the Tour of China I.
After an athletic childhood, Clancy focused exclusively on cycling at age 16. He won his first race — a time trial — and continued to enter and earn results at bigger races. Following a breakout U23* season, he signed with Ireland’s top domestic squad, Dan Morrissey-Speedyspokes. While at a team training camp, routine blood tests indicated abnormal blood sugar levels. After a follow-up test, Clancy was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. In the hospital, a diabetes consultant told him extreme levels of exercise could complicate his diabetes management and make it more difficult to control the condition.
Within 24 hours of being discharged, Clancy discovered Team Novo Nordisk on the web, which motivated him to get back on the bike. Clancy connected with a fellow Irish rider on the Team Novo Nordisk development squad and within six months he signed a contract with the world’s first all-diabetes professional cycling team.
Clancy never thought he would become a diabetes ambassador and speak publicly to others about his journey. As a student, he was terrified to speak in front of his class, but now the young Irishman enjoys inspiring others with his story. Prior to joining Team Novo Nordisk, Clancy studied to become a physical education teacher. He anticipates remaining in the cycling and diabetes communities following his professional career. Clancy is a music fanatic and not being able to bring his guitar is the biggest challenge of being on the road.
"Having diabetes is just one extra thing I have to think about while racing."
7th – Irish National Road Championship
4th – Tour of China I, Stage 3
4th – U23 Irish National Road Race Championships
10th – 2013 Wilmington Gran Prix
5th – U23 Irish National Road Race Championships
1st – Charleville 2 day stage race (Ireland), Time Trial Stage
Overall general classification winner – Charleville 2 day
Best Domestic Based Rider in Ireland award
Tell us about when you were diagnosed and how you found out?
2011 was the best cycling season of my life so far. I was winning races and had earned the Best Domestic Rider in Ireland award. I was training hard over the winter with the National Development Team and had signed with a top team in Ireland.
I’d never felt so strong, and I couldn’t wait to achieve some great results. However, just before the first race of the 2012 season, I started losing weight without any explanation. Luckily, the Irish Development Team head coach recommended each rider to get blood tests done, and when mine came back, it showed high levels of sugar in the blood.
I attempted to race, but I was dropped early on. My own teammates said they didn’t recognize me when I showed up because I was so skinny. I cycled to the next race, but I had to just watch because I felt so bad.
My doctor did another set of tests a few weeks later, and I received those results while I was in a classroom teaching as part of my university degree.
I left the school and immediately went straight to the hospital, and on the 28th of March 2012, it was confirmed that I had type 1 diabetes.
What was your initial reaction?
I was completely shocked- I really couldn’t believe it. Even when the initial blood tests showed high blood sugar levels, I asked my doctor, “There’s no way it could be diabetes, could it?”
I really never expected it to be something like diabetes, but at least now I had an explanation for losing weight- despite always being hungry- my constant thirst, frequent urination and dry mouth.
How did your family/friends/fellow athletes react?
At first, everyone was really surprised. I suppose most people were primarily concerned about what it meant for me, what would change and what I could or could not do anymore.
Of course, my family was worried about me, always wanting to know the results of my blood glucose checks, and making sure I was ok even if I was just a little bit high or low.
Did you think your days as an athlete were over? Did others? What did your doctor say?
Yes- for 24 hours I thought I was never going to be a cyclist anymore.
Once the diabetes consultant at the hospital heard that I was an avid cyclist, he told me that diabetes is a difficult condition to manage and adding extreme levels of exercise on top of that could complicate things. So he recommended cycling no more than one mile.
I was in tears after hearing this. However, thankfully I remembered seeing the team on the television, so I did some research online to find out that other guys were racing successfully with diabetes.
I was immediately inspired and motivated to face this new challenge head on, and with the support of the right health care team, I was able to cycle much more than just one mile!
What was it like riding with diabetes and how did you adjust?
At first, it was strange to have to closely monitor everything. I didn’t mind doing it- it was just a new experience and a change of routine, having to check my blood glucose up to 20 times a day or sometimes every 20-30 minutes on the bike.
And while I always watched what I ate, I now became more concerned with my carbohydrate intake and weighed my meals to count the carbs. I also kept a food/insulin/glucose diary and quickly learned what affect things had, so I could learn from my mistakes to improve my management each day.
Tell us about how you got started in your sport.
I started playing football (soccer) in school, and then played it regularly with a local club until I was around 13. After this, I tried my hand at some rugby with a local club, joined a golf club and was a member of a surf club.
From a young age, I always enjoyed cycling. It started out just riding around my neighborhood, then I began taking my bike on the family holidays to France, so I could cycle on the dedicated bike trails there.
Eventually, I bought my first racing bike and started doing some mountain bike and road races around the age of 16.
I got hooked on racing and took it more seriously each following year, and my cycling career went from there.
When did you start competing?
I started racing at the age of 16. One of my first races was the International Junior Tour of Ireland, which was a pretty high standard, especially for a beginner. I was blown away by everything, but I absolutely loved it and kept coming back for more.
How/when did you know cycling was something you wanted to do professionally?
After a couple of years racing, and once I started tasting some success, I always thought about what it would be like to do it professionally. I think anyone who is passionate about a sport can only dream about being able to do it as a job.
What do you think is your biggest achievement in your athletic career?
Well, cycling more than one mile after my diabetes diagnosis would have to be up there.
After that, it would be winning a stage and the overall general classification at the 2011 Charleville Two-Day in Ireland.
What is your favorite memory from a race/competition?
In one of the first races after my diagnosis, I was in the breakaway, and I needed to check my blood glucose levels. As we raced along, I pulled my monitor out of my pocket, and one of the other riders came alongside me and, with a look of astonishment on his face, said he couldn’t believe I had taken my phone with me during the race- and that I was using it!
In that same race, after crossing the finish line for 5th place, I burst in to tears. I was so emotional that I had even made it this far and had been able to be this successful after being diagnosed with diabetes.
I’ll never forget the people who wondered, because of my reaction, if I thought I had won the race, but it was a special moment and a milestone for me!
Being part of Team Novo Nordisk
How did you come to join Team Novo Nordisk?
I emailed the team asking for some advice for racing with diabetes, and at the same time the team had just identified me as a cyclist with diabetes. After that, I was invited to join the Development for a trial period of three weeks.
I accepted the offer, and made arrangements to take time off college and my job at a bike shop, reassuring everyone that I would only be missing a few days.
However, that trial period ended up with me signing my first professional contract with Team Novo Nordisk. And consequently, I had to take off more than a few days from college and work!
How has your life changed since you joined the team (both as an athlete and as a person)?
Since joining the team, my job is now to be a full time athlete. This means I’m always focused on training/nutrition/recovery.
One of the biggest changes has to be all of the travelling, living out of a suitcase for most of the year and being on the road in many new countries. Also, being surrounded by so many different languages is a new experience for me.
Off the bike (Other Interests)
How do you spend your time when you’re not training or racing? Any other passions?
I love music, and I enjoy listening and playing along with my guitar. My headphones and travel speaker are two of my priorities when packing to go away for a race.
I do some reading too, and try to keep up with the latest movies when traveling.
Hanging around with friends when I’m at home is always great, and having time to enjoy doing sports and activities during the off-season, which I don’t normally get to do, is nice too!
What do you want to do when you retire?
I don’t know yet.
What are the three most important things in your life?
Married? Kids? Pets?
No- just one dog called Lola!
Clancy Takes Seventh at Irish National Road Championship
Race: Irish National Elite Road Race Championship Start/Finish: Omagh/Omagh, Ireland Distance: 169 kilometers Omagh, Ireland — Team Novo Nordisk’s Stephen Clancy earned his best result of the season when he finished seventh at Sunday’s Irish National Road Championship in Omagh. The 169-kilometer race saw a combined field of elite and U23 riders. The race served as…