Team Novo Nordisk is the world’s first all Diabetic professional cycling team made up of 18 riders from around the world, all living with Type One Diabetes. Sam Brand finished 2nd at the British Triathlon Championships (20-24) in 2015 and joined Team Novo Nordisk Development Team the following year. Two years later he signed with the Professional Team. 2018 proved to be a dream year with Sam competing in 3 World Tour events including The Monument, Milan-San Remo. He was also able to represent the Isle of Man at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and will also be at the forthcoming Commonwealth Games.
We were able to chat with Sam about Diabetes, the Isle of Man and more…
Tell us about Type One Diabetes, how you found you had it and how it affects you day to day…
Type One Diabetes is an autoimmune condition. Racing for Team Novo Nordisk, the world’s first all-diabetes professional cycling team, we want to win races but also as a team to inspire, educate and empower everyone around the world affected by Diabetes. We want to drive change by showing what’s possible which is humbling to me. I was diagnosed 20 years ago and I kind of feel like it was “meant to be” because I was diagnosed on World Diabetes Day – 14th November 2001 to be exact – quite an irony really. I was 10 years old and I feel like my life began on that day as it were. On reflection, I think it was the best thing that ever happened to me and I always tell parents that. I found a community, a resilience, a family and a team and it has given me a mission. I feel like I found a purpose which evades a lot of people. I like to see what I do day to day and my commitment to the Diabetes community as me doing my best to empower someone else to do their best. Some might say I wasn’t dealt the best hand, but I’m a positive person and although diabetes isn’t easy, it is manageable and the output that I choose is through the medium of a bike. Others might want to be a doctor or an astronaut… hopefully if they see me on a bike, giving my all, then it will empower them to think “great, I want to do this…”
What would you say has been the impact of the Diabetes in terms of being a cyclist?
There has been so much advancement with technology since I was first diagnosed. Practicality-wise, we use continuous glucose monitors (CGM’s) which allow us to see the blood sugar value in real life. For me, that’s a big game changer because when you know the answer, the question is irrelevant. We work back from that reading. If you have the data then you can work out how much time is left on the bike or on the stage and go from there. A bit like cycling at threshold for an hour and being able to hold that (in theory). Working within the lines, knowing the outcome or the value of your blood sugar then it is easy to change what you need to do. For example, if my sugars start to drop then I need to eat more; if they increase I need to make sure that’s kept under control. A bit of a number game. It’s another thing I have to measure. I guess if anyone gets on a bike they are going to run out of energy at some point but I know my body so well I use it as an advantage. There is also new technology coming out for other people in sports with the introduction of CGM’s for the sporting market.
Everyone craves the same food when they get “the bonk”, what is it you would go for?
We get these little Italian cookies…. They are unbelievable! I always put one in my back pocket for hour three! It’s like bars, gels, bars, gels… cookie’s coming in! When you don’t get the fuelling strategy right, and sometimes these things happen, you just go to the nearest gas station and pick up a bar, you know, something like Snickers… it’s the worldwide go-to. Wherever you are, there’s always a Snickers!
Which event are you looking forward to most this season?
My ambition is to stand on the podium with Team Novo Nordisk. We have got a relatively busy start to the season with the European single day races so looking forward to those ones. On top of this, there is the Commonwealth Games this summer. I crashed out of the last one, so it’s great to have been selected again for this year’s Games. We have a very strong team on the Isle of Man so hopefully we can bring home some good results.
What’s it like training in the Isle of Man?
People think it’s flat and there aren’t any long climbs - it’s never flat and there is always climbing. It’s up and down, windy and exposed but it’s a joy of a ride and I never get tired of the scenery and being by the sea. I am a purist, I just love being on my bike. I still have to train as hard as everyone else and perform just as well regardless of the Diabetes. I just need to put in the steps to continue to improve.
Who is your greatest cycling legend?
I get asked this a lot and the typical ones come to mind like Mark Cavendish who is also from the Isle of Man. He’s phenomenal and one of the most decorated, best cyclists of all time. Then there is the wealth of old school cyclists like Tom Simpson – just hardcore. It’s how cycling as we know it has developed, like with Merckx and people like that. It’s a totally different sport now to how it was. Our Director of Sport is Massimo Podenzana who had stage wins at the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia as well as raced with Marco Pantani so we have a real depth of knowledge within the team. I could listen to the stories all day long. I suppose growing up I’d be looking up to an absolute machine, like Tony Martin or Fabio Cancellara. Having said that, you can learn something from everyone.
Being controversial, coming from the Isle of Man do you prefer the Isle of Man TT or a Grand Tour?
Ha.. well I could sit on the fence a bit and say it would be a dream to do a Grand Tour. I don’t dream about doing the Isle of Man TT but I absolutely love it. When the TT comes to the island it’s an incredible 2-week spectacle, closed roads, 130mph average speed but it’s impossible as a cyclist to train so I can’t be there. It is a real privilege to be from an island that has that history. As a young kid I would sit in a hedge and watch this absolutely manic thing happening in front of my eyes. I hope that tradition does continue because it is special and brings people to the island. But a Grand Tour… that would be the ultimate goal.
To sum up..
Our mission is to inspire people with Diabetes and we can do that without getting on the bike, which is special, but I want to do it on the bike. I am committed to this mission, to this community and to this family - knowing what I do can really help others is, as I’ve said, humbling and that really means the world to me.
Photo credit to @nassostphoto
You can follow Sam on the following:
Facebook: Sam Brand