PEZ Talk: Team Novo Nordisk’s Sam Brand
Rider Interview: Sam Brand started off as a triathlete, but after graduating from university in 2015, he made the move to 100% cycling. The man from Man made his Pro debut as a stagiaire in August 2017 at the Tour of Utah and received a full professional contract with Team Novo Nordisk for the 2018 season. Ed Hood caught up with Sam to hear about his first full Pro season and he looks forward to 2019.
Ed Hood first spoke to Sam at the end of 2017.
Sam Brand (Isle of Man) has just finished his second season with Pro Continental team, Team Novo Nordisk. The big difference though between Team Novo Nordisk and every other Pro Continental team is that all of the riders are diabetics. Despite this handicap the team competes at many of the sport’s biggest show-piece events: Milan-Sanremo, GP Indurain, Brabantse Pijl, Commonwealth Games, Ride London, Tour of Denmark. . .
We caught up with Sam recently to talk about his 2018 season and what 2019 holds for him:
PEZ: Are you back in the Isle of Man, Sam or have you nested in sunny Girona, like so many other pros, these days?
Sam Brand: I’m in the Isle of Man and it’s cold! I’m just back from a training camp and spend so much time traveling with the team that I prefer to stay here at home.
PEZ: Do you ever see Mr. Cavendish out on the road there?
Sometimes and Pete Kennaugh (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Mark Christian (ex-Aqua Blue) come out too so we have a good training group going here.
PEZ: Last season was a long one for you.
Really long, I started in February in Abu Dhabi and the Tour of Hainan finished on 31st October. I followed that with an easy week then had two weeks off after that – I didn’t want to take too long off, it’s not like I’ve been a pro for 10 years and have good muscle memory, 2018 was only my second season.
PEZ: Do you have a coach?
Yes, on Team Novo Nordisk we have three coaches, I work with Luca Festa, we communicate pretty much daily – when you join the team you’re assigned a coach, it’s a good system.
PEZ: Your programme in 2018 was pretty cosmo – lots of travel, do you enjoy that?
The start of last season was pretty full on – Abu Dhabi to Italy for Milan-Sanremo; Japan for the Tour of Tochigi; New Zealand for the Commonwealth Games then back to Europe. I think this year the travel will be more broken up; it’s a problem for modern day cyclists, the long haul flights – if you’re diabetic the main thing to remember is to keep well hydrated.
PEZ: What were your high spots of the year?
It was a season where I wanted to learn – and I think I did that but riding Milan-Sanremo was special, being on the start line of a 300 kilometre Monument was a dream. I’ve watched it on TV and dreamed about riding it but there’s a lot you don’t see on TV – the first 10K is neutralised but it was pouring rain over cobbles and tram tracks with quite a few guys coming down. The first two hours were in the rain then when we got to the coast it was sunny, it rained again then the last 100K was really hot. It was special to ride and finish that race; I’ve always dreamed of doing it.
PEZ: How were the Commonwealth Games?
They weren’t the greatest, my race really only lasted about 10K – a guy bombed up the inside, came down and took five or six of us with him. My chain got jammed inside the rings and we had a heck of a job to get it free it, I chased for one-and-a-half laps but then my derailleur burst off and I had to grab a fan’s bike to carry on. I carried on racing until I was pulled out. I sought out the guy who gave me his bike, after the race and gave him my jersey – that was nice. The time trial went better for me, I was 22nd in a pretty stacked field – I don’t ride a lot of time trials, but I do enjoy them.
PEZ: What’s your role in the team.
In every race we have a designated leader whether it’s a flat race for our sprinter or a hilly one for one of our climbers. We always have a game plan and I’m usually in a support role. After the race we analyse how things went and try to learn from. It’s too early for me to ‘put myself in a box’ as far as what kind of rider I am but I do like stage races and I do like long stages. Hainan was UCi 2 HC and I made it inside the top 30; I was pleased with that result. This year I’ll keep on supporting my team mates and carry on learning my trade.
PEZ: I hear you’re dipping your toe in the Zwift waters?
I’ve just set things up for it today, it’s the Zwift ‘Kiss’ League – I’m actually racing in two-and-a-half hours, it’s not really my thing but the team asked me – I prefer to ride outside. But when you go on there are thousands of people on there!
PEZ: If you’re a Team Novo Nordisk rider there’s more to it than just racing. . .
It’s our mission to inspire, educate and empower people with diabetes – I’ve given multiple motivational talks this year as well as racing. Folks get told ‘no’ when they talk about pursuing their dreams but our job is to tell them, ‘yes’ you can pursue them. And there’s also the aspect of motivating the Team Novo Nordisk staff; at our recent training camp we had 30 or 40 of the company’s employees there to let them see what a professional cycling team is all about.
PEZ: How has your condition been affected by the volume of training and racing you do?
I was diagnosed at 10 years-of-age and as I got older and started to train for and race triathlons I was doing maybe two hour bike rides – now I do six hour rides regularly. The way my condition is observed and medication administered is just so much more sophisticated now – our blood sugar is continually monitored as we ride.
PEZ: What’s 2019 about?
I’ve recently heard that we have a wild card ride for Milan-Sanremo so I’d love to ride that again. And we’re into the UAE Tour which takes in more territory than the Abu Dhabi tour with two or three sprint and two or three hilly stages – and there’s a TTT which should be a good experience. This year I want to be a lot more visible, show myself, get in the breaks and stand on a podium!
More information on the team at www.teamnovonordisk.com.
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,700 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.