Bigger than racing: Tour of Utah team aims to inspire those with diabetes

Friday , August 04, 2017 - 5:00 AM

JACOB SCHOLL, Standard-Examiner Staff

During the seven days of the Tour of Utah, cyclists will pedal 600 miles and power through more than 36,000 feet of elevation gain. 

While they sprint, climb and push themselves to their limit, they must also watch for hazards like spectators and other cyclists. 

Now, imagine competing in this grueling race while managing a disease with no cure. This is what the riders of Team Novo Nordisk experience on a daily basis.

The organization is a global, all-diabetics sports team consisting of cyclists, triathletes and runners. The team is led by its elite cycling squad, the first all-diabetic professional cycling team.

TOUR OF UTAH: Road closure locations, times, dates around Northern Utah | Photos

The goal of Team Novo Nordisk, whose namesake sponsor is a Danish pharmaceutical company that aims to improve the lives of those with diabetes, is to inspire and uplift those with the disease and “show the world what may be possible with diabetes,” according to its website.

Members of the team assembled for this year’s Tour of Utah come from places ranging from Canada to Italy, Australia to the Netherlands. For some, the Northern Utah area is a new place for racing, and for some, it’s a familiar friend. 

For Fabio Calabria, the scenic landscapes of Utah are nothing new; this is his fourth time competing in the tour. 

“It’s such a beautiful part of the world,” Calabria said. “The towns are supportive, the event is well-ran and I’m surrounded by great energy.”

Calabria grew up in Australia to a non-cycling family, but after watching the Tour de France as a young boy, he was hooked. After a friend took him to a race not long after, he said he officially caught the cycling bug.

But when Calabria was 13 years old, he woke up in a hospital bed after being in a coma for three days. When doctors told him and his family the medical episode was caused by Type 1 diabetes, they were relieved.

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“It was a pleasant surprise,” he said. “It’s a blessing it wasn’t anything worse.” 

Calabria said the disease doesn’t really impact his performance as a cyclist as long as it’s properly managed. 

“All athletes have something to deal with,” he said. “It’s never really much of a problem.”

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David Castol, a team doctor for the cycling squad, said the riders follow a disciplined nutrition program to help keep their blood glucose levels stable during races and training sessions.

“On an ongoing basis, we provide them with specific support in regards to corrections in their treatment plan and how to adapt that with their training,” Castol said by email.

On race day, Castol said he talks with the riders a few times throughout the day to see how they’re feeling and to ensure their blood glucose levels are in the proper range for a day of racing.

The team’s sport director, Pavel Cherkasov, is a former rider and joined Team Novo Nordisk in 2013. Cherkasov said it has been a privilege to coach such a skilled team. Cherkasov said the whole team is close, which is a big advantage in cycling. 

“I feel that what makes our team unique is team bonding,” he said. “We keep our rosters very consistent, which on other teams, that changes and fluctuates from season to season.”

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Cherkasov has worked with other teams in the past, and says this team’s shared challenge of managing Type 1 diabetes is hardly an issue for the riders.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

“All our riders are really inspired and motivated to achieve the highest levels of the professional sport,” he said. 

Fans, too, have noticed the team’s passion for who they represent.

Team Novo Nordisk rider Stephen Clancy was named the Stage 1 fan favorite, an honor voted on by the public and given to a rider who exemplifies professionalism in cycling and charity. 

Calabria said being on a team with a mission like Team Novo Nordisk’s makes the sport more meaningful.

“This sponsor cares, and I have a connection to what’s on my jersey,” Calabria said. “It’s bigger than just racing. We’re racing for everyone with diabetes.” 

Team Novo Nordisk, along with the rest of the Tour of Utah field, will ride through Weber and Davis counties Friday during the fifth stage of the tour.

Contact digital producer Jacob Scholl at jscholl@standard.net or follow him on Twitter @Jacob_Scholl.

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