Nineteen-year-old Declan Irvine is a rising star on the Team Novo Nordisk Development Team. Declan, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 12, put up several impressive results as a member of the TNN Junior Team in 2017, including wins at three Belgian races and multiple podium finishes. In his first year with the Development squad, the Australian continues to impress.
On April 28, Declan scored a top 10 at Athens Twilight Criterium, an important US race for up-and-coming cyclists, and one that is close to the heart of the TNN family. Athens, Georgia is where TNN’s sister organization, Team Type 1, was born. Additionally, TNN General Manager Vassili Davidenko earned victories at Athens Twilight in 2005 and 2006.
Below Declan reflects on what his Twilight top 10 means at this early stage of his career and for TNN’s mission to inspire, educate and empower everyone affected by diabetes.
What was the race day like?
You have to witness it yourself to understand the amazing Twilight atmosphere.
The crowd was probably the thing I remember most. Around 25,000 spectators were lining the 1-mile circuit, and the noise they made every time we would come down the finish straight was phenomenal. On the final lap, when we got the bell, the crowd was screaming so loud I couldn’t hear anything but a blur of noises. It was truly something.
The weather was a perfect 25ºC/77ºF, and the breeze was low but just enough to feel. And the competition was very hard.
Big teams were out in force, trying to win the first USA crit series race of the year. The field was stacked with pro continental riders and very strong continental teams. As they introduced the top riders and their accomplishments to the front of the race, I really understood the high quality of the field.
There were 150 starters on the line to navigate a very tight and fast Athens circuit, and it was really a race of attrition, as the hill out of the second turn decided the race. This was where most riders were dropped or blew up.
What was your strategy for the day and how did it play out?
My plan was to stay at the front, out of trouble and see how the race panned out. I’ve been doing well lately by going into races without an exact game plan, as I’ve found not overthinking it works best for me. I just knew I had to be up near the front with 10 laps to go, so I used a lot of energy to get there.
The Athens Twilight Criterium is very long compared to other criteriums I’ve raced. The distance was 80km, and it took close to 100 minutes to complete. So I knew I just had to conserve as much energy as possible and wait for the final 30 minutes, as this was where the race was going to either be won or lost.
Being patient paid off, and I started the last three laps with good legs and just outside the top 10.
What was it like in the final sprint?
We were flying into the second-to-last corner of the race, which is the fastest corner of the whole circuit because it’s a downhill right-hander.
It was too fast to try and move up midway through the corner, so I waited and positioned myself for the sprint. I was around 15th position as we left the final corner, and I just gave everything I had to move up as many positions as possible with the aim to nudge inside the top 10.
The last 10 seconds of that race were the hardest I’ve ever experienced, but when I found out I had gotten 10th place, I was over the moon.
How did teamwork contribute towards your result?
At Team Novo Nordisk, we have a very supportive team environment.
Our Director of Research and Education Charlotte Hayes works with me to ensures that my blood glucose levels are at the optimum for the race by monitoring through my CGM. And our soigneur, Gala, is always on hand to ensure we have the right race nutrition and after race massages.
But for this event, TNN GM Vassili Davidenko joined the race staff in the pits. This was a very welcome addition to our team, and the knowledge and motivation he brought were invaluable since he has won the event twice.
Twenty minutes into the race I was forced to go to the pits with a mechanical and Vassili told me to keep calm, don’t worry and get back to the front as fast as I can. He then pushed me back into the peloton, where I fought hard and got back to the front of the race.
Why is a top 10 at Athens Twilight significant at this stage in your cycling career?
To get 10th place in my first ever Athens Twilight at the age of 19 is a fantastic feeling.
I’ve heard many stories from people describing this as a hard and grueling race. So to finish Twilight is an achievement in itself because usually, a third of the peloton doesn’t finish.
The gravity of my achievement sunk in when I reviewed the results, and I got to see the names I was up there with. Also, to see I was the youngest person in the top 30 felt special.
I am happy with my current form, mainly because it is my first year in U23. I aim to build on my skills through the development team and eventually progress to the pro team.
With the support pipeline that Team Novo Nordisk has in place, I know I will always have a great team and atmosphere around me to keep me on track for my future goals. But I definitely can’t wait to come back to Twilight next year and try to do even better.
How did it feel as a rider with diabetes to earn an impressive result like this?
Being part of a team of riders living with diabetes, it can often be easy for the additional daily challenges we face to go unnoticed since this is our normal daily routine. But at this year’s Twilight, I was reminded of the impact our team can have on others with diabetes.
We were warming up on the side of the road and had at least a dozen people come over to us who were living with diabetes or said they had a family member or friend who with diabetes. They said we were their biggest inspiration to keep on fighting.
To be only 19 years old and have the ability to inspire others is genuinely what drove me to go even harder in the last 10 seconds of the race. Every time I get on my bike, I am not just racing for my team; “we” are racing for the millions of people out there living with diabetes. We show that we are not living with diabetes—it is living with us.
(Photos: ©Adam Koble)