Team Novo Nordisk’s Peter Kusztor Gets PEZ’d!
Rider Interview: Peter Kusztor – Multi-National champion, Worlds and Olympic rider and diabetic, but always an optimist. Peter only found out about his diabetes in August last year, but the Hungarian fast-man has taken it in his stride, and with a bit of help, is keen to show his talents with Team Novo Nordisk. Here is his story.
PEZ: How did you get started cycling?
Peter Kusztor: 26 years ago – 1993. My father was a cyclist, not professional, just in Hungary, and so we did some training rides together and I also played football. Then my father asked me “what do you want to do, football or cycling?” and I said yes, cycling. Then I went to a Hungarian team where they look after the growth of kids and so I started to ride at 8 years old.
PEZ: Why did you choose cycling over football?
I don’t know. Maybe because of my father. People say it would be better to be a footballer, but I love cycling and that is why I’m here for so many years.
PEZ: I was trying to think of other famous Hungarian cyclists?
László Bodrogi. He has retired now, but was second and third in the World championships and had a lot of good result and rode in the WorldTour for eleven years.
PEZ: How did you find out you were diabetic?
Last year I had a crash in the Czech Republic, there was a sprint and 15 riders were fighting for the win and I crashed with about 500 meters to go on a corner, it was really hectic. So I broke my collarbone and then I went home and went to hospital for an operation and before the operation they said to me that my blood sugar was a little too high, not so high but a little high, not too high, but a little bit high. I was sure this was because of the crash and the stress and everything. Over the next few weeks I checked it at home and it was always too high and so we went to doctor and I had some special blood tests and then they said “okay you have diabetes,” but I didn’t ask why and this is the start of my story. It’s interesting because I am really skinny and I felt really, really good, nothing bad and had really good form during this period of the season and then they found this, that was very interesting.
PEZ: A complete surprise?
Yes, a really big surprise. First they said ‘Type 2’, but how would that be possible? So they did some other tests and then they said “oh no, this is Type 1”. Okay, I have ‘Type 1’ diabetes and it was really, really surprising.
PEZ: Your form before that was good?
Yeah, it was amazing, I had the best form in my life.
PEZ: Now that you know that you are diabetic and accept everything. How do you feel?
It’s okay, nothing changes, I feel really good. We did some testing last month and some more test now, and it was probably one of the best of my life, I think. I am really an optimist and I feel really good on the bike, yes I have to learn all about diabetes, but on the bike I feel really good, maybe even better. We will see how I am in the races, maybe there can be a different spin on it.
PEZ: You now need to understand everything, the medication…
That’s right, the guys have helped me a lot, everybody helped me. They asked me ‘how are you?’ ‘Everything fine?’ If I have some questions I can ask them and they help me. They helped me really a lot in the first two or three months and I think I’m doing well.
PEZ: But this was only last August, some people find out when they are babies.
Yeah, those guys have a lot of experience with diabetes, so they can help me. Now I can do the measurements really well and we have the Dexcom (continuous glucose monitoring), that has helped a lot. It’s much, much easier.
PEZ: Does anyone in your family have diabetes?
My grandfather had diabetes, but I don’t know which type. It was a surprise to my family. How is it possible? I know it’s possible because I have it. The first two or three weeks were really hard because you don’t know what it is and what you can do, can I be a cyclist or can I have a normal life like before or not. Then in Hungary they don’t understand how it is possible to be in a professional sport and have diabetes. They said it’s not possible, if you have diabetes you don’t do these things and you don’t have this and that. You have to be afraid because of this and that. Then I came to the team and I talked to doctors and the guys and they think differently from in Hungary and so I got so much positive things from here and I can be a professional cyclist and I can live life like normal. So it’s better because I love my food that I eat and I can say, just now, I feel super.
PEZ: Did you know about the team before you joined?
I knew the team before, I was sure it was only for diabetic riders so it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t a team for me because I did’t have diabetes, but after I was diagnosed, I tried to contact the team, not to compete with them, but just to ask some questions. Is it possible to be a cyclist or not. The first time I wrote to Vassili (Davidenko, Team Novo Nordisk manager), my ex trainer in Hungary gave me the contact because they are good friends, and Vassili gave me the contact for Phil (Southerland, CEO and Co-Founder) and I wrote to him saying that I have Diabetes now and is it possible to ride the bike and what can I do in my life? They wrote back and I had to go to Austria to run a special test there for one day and they said there I have type one diabetes and then we started to working together. I came to the first training camp at the end of November and I learned a lot.
PEZ: What about your future in cycling?
I’m really happy to be with Team Novo Nordisk, it is a really nice team and everybody knows what they are doing. The guys and stuff are really nice, they help everyone, everyone has their job and I really would like to enjoy the team, every training ride, every moment, and I really would like to help the guys, because I have the experience in cycling, so I think I can bring something new to the team. I can teach them something and the guys are interested and they want to listen to me, what I say and they are interested. So I think, this is my opinion, they are happy I’m here and I can bring some new things about cycling, because the guys have a lot of experience with diabetes, they can help me with this and I can help them.
PEZ: You’ve ridden the World championships four times and the Olympic Games and you have been national road and time trial champion, so you have a lot of experience.
Yeah, I did the Worlds four times. I have seen a lot of things in cycling. I was always at Continental level, but I like to think we did a good race program and I also won some nice races.
PEZ: You won the Tour of Bretagne, that’s a tough race.
Yes, seven days. I didn’t win so many races, but there have been some really nice results in the Top 10 – Top 20 in the big races. Two years ago in the European Games I was fighting for a really good position in the top 10 and I crashed in the last 200 meters and Alexander Kristoff won and I broke my collarbone. Then one year later I broke the other collarbone, bad things happen but then you pull yourself up and you have to start again because we are always thinking this might be the last possibility for a good results. I think now I pull myself up again and I am really looking forward to working with the team and I step up to another other class, to a Pro class with different races and a different program.
PEZ: You’re going from Continental to ProContinental due to something most people would think was going to be a problem, but it’s the silver lining.
I think in the cycling World and in life, everybody ‘hits the deck’ at some point. I believe the gods think we can get up again and we think this is bad, but the Gods know it can be better and now, look, it’s better. I cannot say my life is finished, so now I’m looking forward and I have to do some things here as I’m not here just to pass the time.
PEZ: What are you looking forward to the most?
I don’t want to say I would like to win this race or that race. I really would like to enjoy the cycling and every moment, the training and the racing. I am not afraid of racing in the big races, now I really enjoy them because it’s more… more calm and I really like that and yes, sure I have some goals during the season, some nice results, maybe win some races and I really would like to start a World championships again, but I need to qualify. I really would like to start the Worlds again because I did them four times and I think I can do some magic results there or in the European games and the National championship. If I can win the National championships it’s really nice, but it’s not easy as I am alone, everybody looking at me, everybody wants to beat me and in Hungary it’s mostly flat, which is really hard for me, I’ve won already on the flat, but it’s really hard. If I can take the jersey that would be very nice for me and also for the team. I would like to be fighting for the jersey, but the big goal would be starting the World championships and the biggest goal I have for the guys is that maybe somebody can learn and can win a race or some good magic results. If you’re working together we can do everything because the guys are really strong. So if we can work together we can do something, that is my opinion.
PEZ: Which has been your favourite race?
Ah! Maybe Bretagne, it was really nice; you have the jersey for four days, everybody working for you and everybody looking at you, what you are doing and you win the race. I won it by two seconds. Also when I rode the Worlds in Mendrisio, that was special. I was in the breakaway, 240K’s, with big guys like Greipel, Arashiro and Barta and they only caught us in the last 30 kilometres. 2009 in Mendrisio when Cadel Evans won. It was a very, very nice race. The Worlds are always a great day.
PEZ: How big is cycling in Hungary?
Not so popular a sport, we do have some Continental teams and we have some good riders, but not so popular like in France or Spain. Now we have three guys in foreign Continental teams, so we have some good guys. We have some good races as well. The Tour of Hungary is a 2.1 race and we have four or five one day races, so I think it’s getting better and better, but we need more cyclists. You know it’s not easy to go on the road, there is a lot of traffic and they don’t really like cycling; “why are you on the road”, they have to change, I think is getting better.
PEZ: Is there a velodrome?
There is a really old one and we have a plan to build a new one, this is a plan. They are always speak about this; “one day we will build a new track” but still nothing, so we are waiting.
PEZ: What about in media, would you be able to read about cycling in the newspaper?
In the newspapers, no, nothing. On the website you can read stuff, but in the newspaper… sometimes they write a little about cycling, but it’s not too popular. The Hungarian cycling website is good, it could be better, they have to do a bit more work on it.
PEZ: What about life after cycling?
I go to University now, I started and did the first half year and so I have two and a half years more. It is a cycling coaching University, so I would like to stay in the sport, maybe coaching or a sports director or something, because my life has been in cycling for 26 years and I am 34 now, that’s many years in the sport. I have an amateur team at home, amateur and elite, they ride some UCI races. Now it’s a little bit bigger, we have good sponsors, so we have good clothes and bikes and we have some staff and cars. We try to build on this, I started last year with only amateurs and this year we got together with another Hungarian team to combine to make it much better. We have amateur and elite riders and we would like to start working with the kids, we have one coach and we would like to build a better cycling system. We want to race in more UCI races, we already have some invitations so I think it’s good. We are always searching for sponsors because everything can help us; money or some clothes or something. I try to help as well, but I have the school and I have two daughter, so busy days, not so much rest.
PEZ: What about the big dream as a rider?
Yeah, sure everyone has to have a big dream. My dream, my one big dream is to ride a three week race one time, a Grand Tour, or some really good Classics, for example in Belgium somewhere. You know I’m not a Classics rider, but I did some races in Belgium with cobbles and narrow roads and I was in the top 15. If you enjoy the ride and you try to do your best, you can you can be good everywhere; on the climbs or the flat.
PEZ: Which Classic do you think would suit you – Flèche Wallonne?
Yes, for example, but I think it doesn’t matter, okay maybe not Paris-Roubaix, but something. You know, I like long races, so this is my dream, that and a three weeks race, either would be really nice, but I just like to enjoy the cycling and I always do the best I can. Yes, I can say I would like to be in this race and have better results, but I think I like to really enjoy it and I do my best, if I do my best then that is the thing.
PEZ: What about the team, have you settled in?
Everything is fine. It’s different from a Continent team, there is more staff and more programs and more everything. You have guys that do this and another to do that, so it’s different, but I can say everything is fine and I really, really enjoy it and everybody is friendly and try to help – that’s important.
PEZ: What’s your motivation? What makes you go?
My motivation? I have it for the people, what I have I would like to give to other people, what I have learned in the last 26 years I would like to give to the others because maybe this can help them, not just for cyclists, but for everyone. Not only for the team but for all the people, if I can I would like to help because it’s a really nice thing when you can help. That is my motivation and to enjoy this moment, because you don’t know what can happen.