Team Novo Nordisk: Changing how the world views diabetes


Diabetes is spiralling out of control. MORE THAN 347 million people worldwide have the disease, and that figure is set to rise to half a billion in the next 20 years. Nearly 20% of citizens in the UAE suffer from it. However, one all-diabetes sports team is on a mission to inspire, educate and empower those affected by it around the world.

TEAM Novo Nordisk (TNN) is a global squad of athletes spearheaded by the world’s first all-diabetes professional cycling team.

Comprised of nearly 100 sportsmen from over 20 countries, TNN competes in more than 500 international events each year across the disciplines of cycling, triathlon and athletics. They raise awareness of diabetes and, through their athletic accomplishments, showcase what can be achieved by those who suffer from it.

Their message is that diabetes need not be a barrier to anything in life – including being a professional athlete.

The TNN cycling squad recently competed at the Dubai Tour for the second year in succession and raced against the likes of four-time Olympic gold medal winner, Bradley Wiggins, and 26-time Tour de France stage winner, Mark Cavendish. Two members of the diabetic team finished in the top 30.

However, it’s not just in competition that the team is making an impact. They regularly attend diabetes clinics to inspire other sufferers and share tips on how exercise has helped them deal with the disease.

SFME’s Scott Grayston spoke to Stephen Clancy, who is an Irish cyclist for TNN, at the Dubai Tour. Clancy’s dreams became reality when he advanced through the Development Programme into the professional squad.

SFME: How did you get involved in Team Novo Nordisk?

Stephen Clancy: I was diagnosed with diabetes back in 2012. I was an amateur cyclist at the time in Ireland and when I was diagnosed I heard about all the things that you ‘could not do’ and was basically told that my dream of becoming a professional cyclist was over. However, I remember watching this team of cyclists with diabetes racing successfully on TV so I made it my ambition to become part of the set-up. In 2013 I first went into the Development Squad with the younger guys and now I’ve made the grade to race with the pro team. I haven’t allowed diabetes to stop me from pursuing my dream.

SFME: What have been the highlights of your career with TNN so far?

SC: Just stepping up year by year into the pro ranks and competing in bigger races has been amazing. Last season I finished in fourth place in one of the stages in the Tour of China. I guess the real highlight has to be meeting the other people who are affected by diabetes around the world. When you meet the kids who are educated and inspired by the team – that’s the best part.

SFME: Can you share some inspiring stories from diabetes sufferers who have met you and the team?

SC: My own diagnosis was quite negative with people telling me that I couldn’t do this and that. I guess for me to be able to tell people that’s not the case by sharing my experiences of what we have done on the bike is inspiring. For people to be told that it is possible to play football, swim, bike and exercise like any normal person, is motivational for diabetes sufferers.  Your dreams can come true despite the setback.

SFME: How has Team Novo Nordisk developed since you joined three years ago?

SC: When I first started it was really interesting to meet other people with diabetes because I’d never done that before. Our team was viewed as a team full of diabetic people who happen to cycle, whereas now we are actually seen as a pro cycling team and the diabetes is a secondary thought. That just shows how much the team has grown. Our results are improving every year and with our junior programme, I can see the team continuing this progression for many years to come.

SFME: When the team is not cycling, what else do you do to help raise awareness and fight diabetes? 

SC: We are constantly attending diabetes clinics where we can speak to patients, doctors and consultants about our own experiences. Often they say that the patient themselves has more knowledge of the condition because they live with it on a daily basis. We try to communicate and inspire as many people as possible.

SFME: What’s your next dream on the bicycle? 

SC: My next dream is to be part of the 2021 Tour de France team. I know I’ve got a long way to go yet but that would be astonishing.

Stephen’s Advice for Diabetics

  • Check your glucose levels as often as possible.
  • Keep hydrated.
  • If you have a bad day, learn something from it.
  • Always stay positive. Just think it could be worse.
  • Don’t let it stop you from pursuing your dreams.

Vassili Davidenko
Senior Vice President of Athletic Operation at TNN

TNN benefits from the experience and cycling knowledge of Vassili Davidenko. The 45 year old was a professional cyclist for 13 years and had an incredible career. He was a former USSR and Russian National Champion on track and mountain bike. Davidenko is the Vice President of Athletic Operations and General Manager and he appreciates the significance of exercise and the astonishing work that TNN are doing both on and off the track.

“Sport and exercise is so important for everybody. I’ve noticed after my retirement that if I don’t exercise I feel tired all the time. Management and organisation is key for diabetics but exercise plays a key part as well. It takes a massive amount of effort and discipline for diabetics to be organised. TNN just goes to prove that nothing is impossible and that you shouldn’t let this disease defeat you. I’m so proud of what TNN has achieved since turning professional.”

Key dates in Team Novo Nordisk’s history

2012: Phil Southerland and global healthcare company, Novo Nordisk, came together to create Team Novo Nordisk, based on a shared vision to inspire, educate and empower people around the world affected by diabetes.

2013: Team Novo Nordisk became the first-ever professional cycling team to feature an all-diabetes roster.

2014: TNN raced over 150 days throughout the year and earned top 10 finishes at the Amgen Tour of California and USA Pro Challenge.

2015: In February 2015, Team Novo Nordisk earned its first-ever win with New Zealander Scott Ambrose taking stage 2 of Le Tour de Filipinas, and the team made its debut at the Dubai Tour, earning two top tens in the prestigious race.

Diabetes hitting UAE hard

The latest figures from the International Diabetes Federation (November 2015) suggest that 19.3% of the UAE population are living with diabetes. Just 10 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity three or more times a week can result in health benefits. Eat right, exercise regularly and live for life!