Tour de Diabetes

International bikers manage disease on wheels.

Gail Newbold Mar 1, 2017

Being a professional cyclist may not be in the cards for most people, but engaging in some form of exercise can make it easier to control blood sugar for people with diabetes. Just ask Stephen Clancy of Limerick, Ireland, member of a global all-diabetes team of bikers who tackled Utah’s grueling mountains and deserts during last August’s Tour of Utah.

“When I was first diagnosed (with Type 1 diabetes) I thought biking would hinder my diabetes management, but I’ve learned that being active helps me more than hinders me,” says Clancy, who was diagnosed five years ago at the age of 19. “I find if I stop cycling due to sickness or injury, my sugar level gets way out of control, so for me biking definitely helps.”

Surprise Diagnosis

An amateur biker since age 16, Clancy was surprised at his diagnosis. “There’s no genetic history in my family going back several generations,” he says.

But he wasn’t going to let diabetes put the brakes on his biking. A year after his diagnosis, he signed on with Team Novo Nordisk, the world’s first professional, all-diabetes team of cyclists from around the world. The team’s mission is to inspire, educate and empower people affected by diabetes by showing them what may be possible.

The team travels with at least one member of its medical staff, who is there to help monitor the cyclists’ blood sugar levels and offer support as needed.

“During each race we look closely at what we eat to make sure our glucose is within target range, but we don’t really eat a special diet,” Clancy says. “We just try to eat healthy carbs and proteins, and make sure our meds are correct.”

Surviving the Tour

Team Novo Nordisk’s goal for the Tour of Utah was to race for team leader Javier Megias. Clancy’s other goal was to survive the seven-day race. “This race was a big step up in terms of racing level for me,” he says. “Combine that with the altitude, heat and amount of climbing, and I knew it was going to be very difficult. I was happy to get through it. I hope to use it as a stepping stone to progress to a higher level.”

In spite of the Tour of Utah’s difficulty, Clancy enjoyed the course and his first visit to Utah. “The roads were wide and well-maintained, the race was very well-organized and the fans were top notch, particularly heading up Empire Pass on the final day,” he says. “The Tour of Utah is a very special race.”

By far, the most difficult of the seven stages for Clancy was Stage 2, which included Mt. Nebo with lots of climbing and a pace that remained extremely high from the start. Utah’s elevation was also a challenge, at least initially. “It took a while to acclimatize, but eventually, it felt more normal,” Clancy says. “However, any time we approached 10,000 feet, it was noticeable.”

Clancy’s advice for others with diabetes? “For me, the bike is a great tool to help manage my diabetes in combination with my medication,” he says. “People don’t need to be professionals to enjoy sports. Thankfully, my diabetes doesn’t hold me back from pursuing my dreams.”

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