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NEW ORLEANS (VN) — It has been an interesting off-season for U.S.-registered Pro Continental team Novo Nordisk. Originally launched in 2005, the world’s first all diabetic (Type 1) cycling team announced last week that it will make its WorldTour stage racing debut in 2016 when it rides as one of four wildcard teams at the Tour of Poland in July.
In the run-up to the announcement, Novo Nordisk has participated in a whirlwind of team-building activities aimed at bolstering confidence heading into what will be their most ambitious season since the squad formerly known as Team Type 1 turned Pro Conti in 2011.
After celebrating World Diabetes Day on November 14 with Pope Francis at a general hearing the Pontiff holds each week at the Vatican, the team participated in a rigorous 36-hour pre-season boot camp led by former U.S. Navy Seals in San Diego, followed by two days of building houses from the ground up for two families impacted by diabetes and poverty in Rosarito, Mexico.
“We came up with the idea to do the Navy Seal-style camp because we wanted the riders to work together more effectively as a team,” said Team Novo Nordisk CEO and co-founder Phil Southerland. “We wanted to show them that when they work well together as a team, they can be better.
“We believe that what was holding them back was truly mental, so we wanted to break them down and build them back up as one solid unit.”
For 24-year-old American cyclist Ben Dilley, the training camp created by Acumen Performance Group (APG) was a bit of a dream come true.
“I grew up wanting to be in the military, so I was excited to get back into this sort of environment,” Dilley told VeloNews. “I think Navy Seals are the very best and the kind of training they do is very intense.
“This experience stretched me mentally and physically, and I was pushed to the absolute limit and was able to go past it.
“I came out of it stronger.”
The three-year veteran, who is signed for 2016, said that the exhausting two-day training camp mimics many of the challenges cyclists face during the course of a season.
“Everyone was on the brink mentally and physically, but we came together as a team,” he said. “There was no hierarchy, no one was better than anyone else. We became closer as a team, we were a unit and we finished together.”
The course began near Mission Bay before heading east into the desert, where temperatures dropped near freezing overnight.
“We rallied around each other to overcome challenges,” said Dilley, referring to the demanding routine that divided the athletes into teams of five through a series of physically and mentally taxing exercises, relying heavily upon teamwork in order to finish tasks.
“These kinds of scenarios happen all the time at races,” he continued. “We have a new bond and trust each other, and I think this experience is going to translate into success.”
Later joined by the entire team’s staff, Novo Nordisk partnered with Hope Sports, a non-profit organization that promotes personal growth and community among athletes through short-term service trips, to lend a hand building homes in Mexico.
“It was painful to see the emotions and desperation in the family when we first met,” said 32-year-old Javier Mejías, who earned his best result to date in August with a podium finish on stage 6 of the USA Pro Challenge.
“The experience of working side-by-side with them to build the house was extremely powerful for me, and I’m so glad we could help them and change their lives for the better,” he continued.
“After this week, I am going to appreciate what I have at home even more than before.”
Like his American teammate, Mejías believes the entire team will benefit from their involvement with Hope Sports south of the border.
“The entire experience taught us that we need to work together to achieve our goals,” he told VeloNews. “That is true for endurance training, home building, and bike racing.
“I think this experience will definitely benefit us for the 2016 season.”
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.