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"The invention of insulin was a defining moments for people with diabetes. 100 years later, we want to be part of this huge platform to inspire people with diabetes. With six years to go, we now see it as a realistic goal."


Photo: Team Novo Nordisk




07.09.2015 @ 07:00 Posted by Joseph Doherty

Team Novo Nordisk, a Pro Continental team made up of riders who all live with Type 1 Diabetes, are not shy from stating their goals. Their biggest goal is to make the Tour de France in 2021, to mark 100 years since the creation of insulin. CyclingQuotes caught up with Phil Southerland, the team’s CEO and the man behind this great goal that the team has to discuss the present and future of the team.


Just before the Tour of Denmark, Phil Southerland took some time to speak to us about the team, just as they enter a key part of the season, competing at the Tour of Denmark (where their sponsor, Novo Nordisk, is from), the USA Pro Challenge and the Tour of Britain.


‘Team Novo Nordisk means the world to me.  This organization comes second only to my family, and it really is like a big extended family for all involved.  I truly wish something like TNN had existed when I was growing up with diabetes, and I am quite proud that no matter where you are in the world today, thanks to this team, you can find a hero with diabetes to look up to,” Southerland tells us.


As we went to press, the team was having their best ever season, capped off by Javier Megias taking second in a USA Pro Challenge stage, a great result for the team. They have also recorded more top tens, podiums and wins this year than in any previous season, with Scott Ambrose being the man to take the team's first win since becoming Team Novo Nordisk at the Tour of the Philippenes. Southerland spoke about the season so far, before going on to talk about the team’s goals in their final races of the season. 


“This season has been a big success to date.  We have reached 26 top 10’s so far in 2015, with the goal of 27-30.  We have raced at the World Tour level, in Milano San Remo, and have been a competitive team the entire season. While we may not rack up victories regularly, we do always achieve our mission, to inspire, educate and empower those affected by diabetes.  The team is making great progress, and I am very proud of all of the work and effort our riders have put in this year.”


“In speaking with the riders, I know we want to win another race.  Aside from that big one, we want to see how many top 10’s we can get, and finish the season strong in Colorado, Great Britain, and then with our younger team in the China races.”


For a Pro Continental team, Novo Nordisk is very advanced, even having their own development team and talent camps to spot new riders they can recruit to give racing experience to before they join the big team. We asked Southerland how it felt to be in command of a team that is so well organized and well run.


“It feels amazing.  One of the highlights for me is visiting our talent ID camps that take place every summer in Athens, GA. We bring young athletes with diabetes from all over the world to the US and it’s a first step toward becoming part of Team Novo Nordisk.  I see kids at 15, 16 years old who are grateful for the fact that they have diabetes, as it means their dream of racing professionally may come true.  And now I am getting to see riders from our first talent ID camps winning local pro-am races in the US, and develop not only as athletes, but as ambassadors and heroes for kids who not long ago were just like them.  The future is bright for Team Novo Nordisk with this talented group of athletes.”


Southerland then went on to talk about the difficulties the team faced in its earlier years, as it struggled to fill its roster. But this has all helped prove the success of the development team, where he points out that 14 of the 18 riders on the squad have graduated from the devo team first.


“The first year, it was a big challenge to fill the roster.  However, thanks to the talent ID camps, the junior team, and the development team, we are now able to bring the right riders into the professional level.  Fourteen of the 18 riders on our current pro squad came from the development team.  Our system works, but we need more athletes.  We need more 10, 12, 16 year olds dreaming of racing for us in the Tour de France, and making the mental dedication to that dream.  It is a challenge for sure, as we can’t just sign marquee riders, but it is a challenge that unites our organization.  We want to succeed not just today and tomorrow, but for years to come.”


Southerland is clearly pleased with how things are going for the team, with a great system being operated, already taking part in Monuments, and being invited to big races and performing well at them. But talk soon turns to the future, where Southerland explained his dream: Team Novo Nordisk at the Tour de France in 2021, a century since insulin was created. It is a subject the man clearly relishes talking about.


“The symbolic gesture of racing in the world’s greatest bike race as a celebration of 100 years of life for people with diabetes is the single greatest goal we have at Team Novo Nordisk.  The invention of insulin was one of the most defining moments for people with diabetes.  And 100 years later, we want to be part of this huge platform to inspire people with diabetes.  It is something that five years ago, most of the world thought was impossible.  With six years to go, we now see it as a realistic goal, yet a goal we must stay laser focused on, if we are going to achieve it.  It is my dream to get the team there, and I believe it is our athletes’ dream to race.  We are in a unique position of making each other’s dreams come true with our success.”


Famously, 2015 marked the year that Africa came to the Tour de France, with MTN-Qhubeka being the first African team to start the race. Daniel Teklehaimanot also became the first African to wear a jersey when he took over the King of the Mountains Jersey. They dream of one day sending a nine-man team to the Tour, comprised solely of Africans. But this year, just 5 were African and they had to sign some established Europeans to get their invited. When asked if Novo Nordisk would sign riders who don’t live with diabetes, Southerland completely rejected the idea.


“As we stand today, no, we would not.  To put an all type 1 team into the Tour is our shared goal with our partner Novo Nordisk.  We believe our goal is achievable, and are working together to pursue success.”


Another future goal could be a spot on the UCI WorldTour, racing regularly with the likes of Sky, BMC and Movistar. But for now, Southerland says the team is more focused on other goals.


“It is not a key objective right now, but we will work toward applying for World Tour status in the future.”


It is clear to see that despite 2021 being a long way off for now, Team Novo Nordisk are a team on the up and will continue to grow with every passing season. Phil Southerland has got them this far and, res assured, he will be there when his team lines up at the Tour de France, completing his vision of inspiring, educating and empowering people affected by diabetes.




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