Team Novo Nordisk’s Sam Brand Gets PEZ’d!
Rider Interview: Sam Brand has made the bold leap from triathlon to a full road career stepping up to the ProContinental Team Novo Nordisk from the development squad. Ed Hood caught up with the man from the Isle of Man to hear all about life and what’s next in 2018.
Professional bike racing is a hard endeavor, even for young men and women at the absolute peak of their health and sporting prowess. To try to compete at the highest levels with a condition like diabetes is not a task for the faint hearted. But it doesn’t deter those Team Novo Nordisk boys who trade blows with the WorldTour boys at every opportunity.
Isle of Man native, 26 year-old Sam Brand has just stepped up to Team Novo Nordisk’s pro continental team after having ridden for their development team then proved himself as a stagiaire. Best ‘have a word’ we figured:
PEZ: You came quite late to the sport from tri, I believe, why the change, Sam?
Sam Brand: I had recently graduated university with a degree in Quantity Surveying (summer 2015) and was at a crossroads in my sporting/academic career. I had just finished second in my 20 to 24 age group at the British Triathlon Championships (12th Overall). It was the opportunity of a lifetime opening at the right time. I decided to take the leap from the Team Novo Nordisk Elite team (Triathlon) to the Development squad and try my hand at road racing. It was too good an opportunity to turn down. Even if it was purely life experience.
PEZ: You raced in the US in 2016, who was that with and how did it go?
I raced in 2016 with the Team Novo Nordisk Development Squad based out of Athens, Georgia. It was fantastic. I soon found my feet with road racing and couldn’t get enough of it. My engine was there but coming from triathlon, my skills were in need of work. I made big leaps from the start to the end of the season and all I wanted to do was continue.
PEZ: How did you get the Novo Nordisk development team ride?
As I said before, I’d been racing for the triathlon set up and as my studies came to an end I was asked to join the teams Talent ID (Team Novo Nordisk’s way of checking out the up and coming talent) camp in Athens, Georgia in the summer of 2015.
PEZ: And then came the stagiaire place, tell us about that.
Heading into my second year as a cyclist I knew I wanted to chase the opportunity to sign for the professional team. It was my only goal coming into the year. Following what could only be classed as my first proper off season with a full winter training program I knew I was in a much better shape and with the previous year of experience I was ready to push on. I found some good early form finishing 24th overall at the Vuelta Independence Nacional Republica Dominicana (UCI 2.2), then racing in the Tour of Thailand and onto a small European tour in Ukraine, Romania and Poland with my best result being a top 20 finish at the Tour of Bihor. After that, I travelled home for summer break and looking forward to my first British National Championships (on home soil), I was emailed to tell me that I’d be moving up to the pro team for the remainder of the season. I was over the moon but knew that nothing was guaranteed but if I continued as I had then it would give me the best chance of reaching my overall goal of signing for the pro team.
PEZ: And on the Pro Continental team for 2018 – you must be pleased?
I am absolutely over the moon. I’ve been on cloud nine since moving up as stagiaire and can’t wait to get stuck in 2018. Watch this space.
PEZ: You’ve had a cosmo season – Dominican Republic to China via Thailand and the Ukraine, how about all that traveling?
It’s fantastic, the best way to see the world and no two days are the same. Which I love. Don’t get me wrong, it can be tough but I am truly grateful that I have the opportunity to do what I do, love what I do as well as having the opportunity to Inspire, Educate and Empower those around the world affected by Diabetes.
PEZ: Tell us about the Chinese races, the sport seems to be booming there?
It does seem to be booming. There seems to be a huge scene developing with Tour of China and Tour of Hainan being the two of the races I was able to partake in during my time as stagiaire. There is some work needed to be done in the Tour of China with a lot of transfers but some good racing still. It’s very aggressive racing. The Tour of Hainan was also very aggressive. It makes every day completely different. On top of that there were some great crowds gathering to watch; it seems the locals love it too.
PEZ: Which ride this year gave you most satisfaction?
I think the Tour of Bihor. A tough few days in a very good field, finishing top 20 on GC, in a European UCI race was a great feeling. It also gave me an Isle of Man, Commonwealth Games consideration standard.
PEZ: Where will you be based and why for 2018?
At present my plan is to train on the Isle of Man. There are a number of riders based here and a very good group to train with. Also nothing beats the Manx (home) roads. It’s a great place to ride a bike with a bit of everything. Including a lot of wind.
PEZ: What effect has all the training and racing had on your condition?
Diabetes or not, management of your health and wellbeing is that much easier with exercise. Being able to push to a high level of racing has had such beneficial impacts in general. Quoting our leader Phil Southerland; “Exercise is the billion dollar drug that’s never prescribed”.
PEZ: Who’s your role model in the sport?
Great question. No one in particular, it’s always great to support the Manx lads though.
PEZ: What’s your favorite kind of race?
Something with a bit of a challenge. Being new to the sport compared to everyone else I am still trying to find my niche. I find this gives me a great platform because I want to give it all a go and see how I fair, from there maybe I’ll find my ultimate favorite.
PEZ: You’re an Isle of Man boy, do you see much of Cav, Pete Kennaugh and Ben Swift?
Yeah. Being based in the US for the majority of the last two seasons has meant I’ve not ridden too much with them but in the winter months there out and about.
PEZ: 2018 is all about. . .
Results, developing further, racing hard and giving everything. I hope to make the Isle of Man Commonwealth Games team, beyond that I would love to race some of Team Novo Nordisk’s key races and surprise a few people, aiming big and racing hard.
# With thanks to Sam and Team Novo Nordisk Press Officer, Chris Baldwin. More team information on their website. #
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 1,500 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.