SYDNEY — Seems like a long time since New Zealand’s Scott Ambrose (Team Novo Nordisk) soloed to victory on stage 2 at Tour de Filipinas in February to give the world’s first all-diabetes professional cycling team is first professional cycling victory in the team’s three-year history.
The 20-year-old Auckland native would go on to win the points classification and captain his young squad from the Tour de Taiwan to the Tour of California — helping his 30-year-old Spanish teammate Javier Mejías finish in the top 10 on general classification at the Tour of Turkey along the way.
Most recently, Team Novo Nordisk achieved nine top-10 finishes collectively while competing at the Tour de Korea (UCI 2.1) and Tour de Beauce (2.2) simultaneously in June, bringing the team’s current season total to 25 top-10 finishes heading into a well-deserved mid-season break.
“So far this year, Team Novo Nordisk has earned more top-10 finishes than our entire 2014 season,” said Team Novo Nordisk co-founder and CEO, Phil Southerland. “The dedication and hard work of every single athlete is paying off and the entire organization is really proud of what they have accomplished on the road. We will aggressively go after more results later this summer when we start racing again at Tour of Denmark.”
Aside from Ambrose and Mejías, Italian sprinter Andrea Peron, 26, is another burgeoning team standout after showing significant progress with an eighth-place finish on stage 8 at the Tour of California in May and four top-10 finishes in Korea, including a fourth on stage 2 following a crash the day before, and a third on stage 5 en route to a sixth-place finish on points.
“Andrea did well earlier this season when he rode in the breakaway all day at Milan-San Remo, but otherwise luck has not been on his side recently,” team sport director and corporate vice president Vassili Davidenko told VeloNews. “Now, to see him get his form back at Tour de Korea gives all of us at Team Novo Nordisk a great sense of pride.”
For the retired Russian pro cyclist, Peron is an example of the team’s continuing progress for 2015.
“Andrea’s podium and three additional top-10 finishes, along with the team’s total of six top-10 finishes in Korea, are a reflection of the amazing performance and growth by the team overall,” said Davidenko, who himself finished sixth overall at Tirreno-Adriatico in 1997. “We’re just six months into the season and we already have more top-10 finishes than we had all of last year.
“These results show we are definitely on the right track,” he added. “Andrea and his teammates are consistently performing better, the team is getting stronger, and we are excited to see what the rest of the season will bring when we start racing again.”
Peron agrees with Davidenko.
“Korea was a good week,” said Peron, who was diagnosed as a diabetic at 15. “Expectations are good from the start and now the first part of season is done and it’s time to recover and prepare for second part of the year, and I am very excited about that — we all are.”
For riders rostered to Team Novo Nordisk, being contracted to the team is much more than a job — it’s literally a way of life. Each cyclist on the U.S.-registered UCI Pro Continental team suffers from the genetic disability known as type 1 diabetes.
“Our riders have a responsibility within the communities we race [to] educate and empower the 387 million people around the world affected by diabetes,” Davidenko told VeloNews during the Presidential Tour of Turkey in May. “Team Novo Nordisk proves that it’s not about diabetes. Yes it exists, but life doesn’t stop if you have diabetes.
“You can continue to achieve your dreams, you just need to manage your diabetes on a daily basis.”
The team was originally spawned off an idea from Southerland and Joe Eldridge in 2006 when they decided to create a team of eight riders diagnosed with type 1 diabetes to ride the gruelling 4,800-kilometer Race Across America (RAAM) — a race they later won the following three years (2007-2010).
Under the watchful eye of Southerland, the team has morphed into something much bigger and is now comprised of nearly 100 athletes from over 20 countries, and regularly competes in more than 500 international cycling, mountain biking, cyclocross, triathlon, and running events for both men and women annually.
The social media reach of the program alone has attracted more than 1.3 million friends, fans, and followers across the team’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube accounts.
It has not all been good news for the team this season, as Belgian Thomas Raeymaekers announced he is retiring in the middle of this third season to treat ongoing health issues related to Crohn’s disease, a condition he was diagnosed with earlier this year.
“As a professional team, we lose a fierce competitor who thrived in tough conditions and left every ounce he had on the road; but as an organization, we gain a tremendous ambassador who will play an equally important role,” said Southerland about the 22-year-old Raeymaekers, who will assume a new role with the team as an athlete ambassador. “Thomas is an athlete who doesn’t let diabetes stop him from pursuing his dreams on or off the bike and he is an inspiration to many.”
The team will return to action in late July for a training camp in Italy before heading to the Tour of Denmark, Arctic Race of Norway, and the USA Pro Challenge in August.
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.