Since the announcement last week that Novo Nordisk has renewed its contract with the team as title sponsor through 2023, we thought we’d look at some of the achievements since first partnering with the Danish company in December 2012.
When CEO and Co-Founder Phil Southerland first conceptualized the idea of an all diabetes line up, team management reached out to every cycling federation in the world, looking to source athletes living with diabetes. They received one reply. They were trying through the whole globe to find anyone who was remotely capable.
2013 – The first season that all athletes with type 1 diabetes competed on the team . In the fifth race of the season, Trofeo Laigueglia, everyone rocked up in Italy for the first time, very nervous, but when Thomas Raeymaekers made the day’s breakaway, it was a sign of confidence that the mission was possible.
2014 – The team raced the Tour of California for the first time. As an American team in the biggest American race at the time, there was plenty of attention on the team. It was his first day racing in America and he got into the breakaway on the first stage and earned the prize for the most courageous rider of the day. He got to enjoy the podium with the likes of Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins.
On stage 4, Kevin de Mesmaeker was in a six-man breakaway. With the peloton waiting too long to up the chase and the winds changing in the final 20 kilometers on the coast, the breakaway made it to the finish with de Mesmaeker picking up third. Southerland jumps over the barriers in excitement and runs to congratulate de Mesmaeker as the team starts proving to the world it’s possible for athletes living with diabetes to perform successfully in the professional arena.
Here is a Kevin podium shot:
2015 – RCS Sport invited the organization to the famous Milan San Remo monument. To our knowledge, no one living with type 1 diabetes had ever competed in the 300 kilometer race.
There was a lot of nervous tension on the bus before the race as the unknowns were large.. Adding to the stress, Martijn Verschoor was unable to start due to a lingering knee injury. The press definitely noticed a wildcard team starting the race with a man down.
The race started and Andrea Peron made the breakaway. An Italian in Italy. The TV coverage was amazing as we kept spreading the mission wider. Four of the seven riders finished the race comfortably and the environment on the bus was what we’d describe as jubilant.
2015 marked another historic milestone. At the training camp in January, Southerland stood up in front of the whole team and said this will be the year we win our first race. Weeks later Scott Ambrose realized that dream, winning stage 2 of Le Tour de Filipinas.
“This is a great day for our team. We’ve fought so hard for this moment and words can’t express how important this win is to us,” Ambrose said. “I feel so proud to be able to give something back to this incredible team and all those affected by diabetes.”
Javier Megias earned a top 10 general classification result at the Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey and the rest of the cycling world started believing athletes living with diabetes could compete at the highest level.
2016 – The team receives its first invite to a World Tour stage race – Tour of Poland. They would go on to face horrendous weather conditions with Charles Planet finishing the race last. In beautiful redemption, he returned to the race in 2019 to win the team’s first ever World Tour jersey after winning the Most Active Rider category.
2017 – The professional squad competed in four World Tour stage races – Abu Dhabi Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico, Tour of California and the Tour of Poland. Across 35 races in 19 countries, Team Novo Nordisk earned 15 top 10 finishes including top five results at GP de Saguenay and the Finnish National Championship Road Race. Neo-pro sprinter Mehdi Benhamouda wore the best young rider jersey at the Tour d’Azerbaidjan, Stephen Clancy received the fan favorite jersey following the opening stage of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and Fabio Calabria earned the most aggressive rider jersey on the final stage of the Colorado Classic.
2018 – The team’s love affair with Milan San Remo continues. Umberto Poli is a neo-pro and gets a last-minute call up to the race as a replacement for Peron. He gets flown in within 24 hours of the race start. He was one of 6 riders in the race who were 21 years old only. Before the start, the legendary Ernesto Colnago walks over to the bus and talks to Umberto. He tells him in Italian, “Your legs are young, do the big things now in life.” Umberto got into the breakaway that day.
2018 marked another milestone when Team Novo Nordisk was invited to the United Nations headquarters in New York to celebrate the first World Bicycle Day. Southerland was one of the speakers. Here’s an excerpt from his speech:
“At 12 years old, I found the bike. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was only seven months old and was told I would be dead or blind by 25.
I started riding so I could eat Snickers bars. Because I had access to insulin, testing supplies and a bike, I didn’t just live life with diabetes, but I thrived with diabetes. The bike served as an equally powerful drug, and I believe everyone should have access to a bike.
I believe the bike not only helps prevent type 2 diabetes, but helps type 1, and more importantly can help every person on the planet to live the best and the healthiest life possible.
The message of hope, inspiration, and empowerment must be shared with all. No matter where you are in the world, you need to believe you can achieve your dreams, and there is no better place than the bike for those dreams to begin.”
Before stage one of the Tour of Rwanda, they called the team a charity squad on national radio and questioned our validity to be in the race. It lit a fire under the riders to prove a point. That’s why David Lozano’s stage win will forever be a memorable one for the organization. In addition to the victory, there were 6 top 10’s with Lozano finishing fifth on the general classification.
2019 – Three members of the management team, Southerland, Vassili Davidenko and Fitzalan Crowe are driving to the feed zone in Milan San Remo when Sports Director Massimo Podenzana calls from the race convoy with an update. Davidenko answers. He hangs up the phone and lets the rest of the car know that the team placed not one, not two, not three, but four riders in the breakaway. That’s half the team.
Last week, we celebrated the renewal of Novo Nordisk as title sponsor of the team. The relationship enables us to keep changing the way the world sees diabetes. When the team started, 75% of athletes were told they could never be professional athletes. Last year, zero of the riders were getting told that. By having this team, Novo Nordisk has made a transformation in the diagnosis with diabetes. People lay in their hospital beds googling and finding the team and with that, we hope they find inspiration.