What's Cool In Road Cycling

Team Novo Nordisk’s Chris Williams Gets PEZ’d!

Rider Interview: Chris Williams is in his seventh professional year and his sixth with Team Novo Nordisk, but he is still young at heart when it comes to racing – his personal motto is, “embrace adventure.” His 2018 season hasn’t started too well, we hear what he has to say.


Chris Williams is the ‘Old Man’ of Team Novo Nordisk at 36 years of age, he is also the ‘race break’ specialist for the team. At the start of 2018 the man from Brisbane, Australia was feeling strong and ready for a great season, but his plan came to sticky end in the Dubai Tour early in February when a collision with street furniture broke his ankle. We spoke to Chris at the team training camp in Spain before Dubai, but first we catch up with him in Australia to hear how his recovery is going.

PEZ: How did the crash happen?
Chris Williams:
At the beginning of the final stage of the Dubai Tour, three Team Novo Nordisk riders, myself included, were in the running to take the overall Intermediate Sprint Jersey, so we were on the attack! Coming into a left turn, my teammate, Andrea Peron and I had attacked off the front in an attempt to get away. As we approached the corner, the marshall was standing in a very confusing position in the middle of the turn with space to turn on the inside and also space to go around the outside into a traffic island.

Andrea and I thought that we had to turn to the inside, so we began to turn. Andrea was just in front of me, and he realized that we were going on the wrong side, so he straightened up. Unfortunately, I had already committed to the corner, so when Andrea straightened up, I had to as well, but this put me on a collision course with the fence and the traffic island in the middle of the road. There are a few videos of the accident on social media as well as some pictures of me with my arm stuck in the fence after the crash. Fortunately, my arm was ok, but I managed to get a deep cut and bruising on my thigh as well as break both my right ankle and talus bone in my foot.

How is your recovery going?
I had surgery on my ankle the day after I returned to Australia and I’m currently nearing the end of six weeks of no weight bearing. After two weeks and some very sore armpits from crutches, I was able to start swimming. It was good to finally be able to do some physical activity and avoid going insane. Yet after years of only using my legs, my upper body couldn’t handle too many laps before they fell off. Fortunately, during this entire time, my wife has been here taking care of me and making life a little bit easier.

What is the next step/part of the plan?
In a few days, (fingers crossed) I will be able to ditch the crutches and put some weight back on my foot. In my mind, I imagine being able to walk out of the doctor’s office, but I doubt it is going to happen that way. Thanks to six weeks of inactivity, my right calf is much smaller than it used to be and my joints are a little stiff. It is going to require a lot of rehabilitation to get back to where it was. In the beginning, the doctor told me that I would most likely be starting with flat rides and flat pedals. I am just looking forward to getting on a bike again!


PEZ: How did you get into cycling?
I started out doing triathlons. I was an overweight smoker, when I finished high school I had picked up some bad habits. I had stopped exercising, I played a bit of sport; basketball and rugby, but I stopped exercising… smoking. I moved into a shared house when I went to college and the guy I was living with was doing triathlon and I’d run into him in the morning when I was coming hope from a night out and he was going out training, and that was pretty much all I saw of him. We were watching a triathlon on TV one weekend and my girlfriend, who is my wife now, said something about this Australian triathlete running out of the water and I said I could do that if I wanted to. Three weeks later I sold my car, quit smoking and bought a bike and that’s how I got into triathlon. I hate running and swimming, basically I’m not a natural swimmer and so I was always playing catch-up. Running is a violent act, so I kept to the cycling.

PEZ: How did the change come about to just cycling?
There are local races in Brisbane every week and they do some criteriums and I thought I would just give them a go. I had no idea what I was doing and there was no one to help me, so I sort of went down on my own accord and started racing in the C grade criteriums and went from there. I worked my way up, racing for a couple of domestic teams in Australia and at the end of 2010 I had a friend racing an Armenian team and they were struggling to get riders for some Chinese races at the end of the year, so I had the opportunity to ride the Tour of Taihu Lake, I think it was the first edition. The next year they became Champion System and I raced for them for a year and I was competing against Team Type 1, the previous version of Team Novo Nordisk, and got to know Joe and Phil and that those guys had diabetes and they contacted me at the end of 2012 to join the team for 2013.


PEZ: When did you find out you were diabetic?
Yeah, I found out after two or three years of cycling, I was riding for a domestic team in Australia, that would be around 2009. I was doing a national series race in Australia and thought I was in really good shape, I had lost a lot of weight, which in my head was a good thing. I went down to Julong and I couldn’t even hang onto the bunch and got lapped in a crit in the first 10 minutes and in the road race in the afternoon I was dropped straight away and cramped like crazy at the end. I went to hospital and I just thought I was dehydrated, but that’s when they told me I had diabetes. The doctor basically said I had to give it up and I thought I would have to and was ready to sell my bike. My teammates were there and they didn’t want to see me moping about the hotel, so they took me out for a ride to the coffee shop after a couple of days and didn’t let me stop, basically. It took about a month of training to get used to it and learning about it before my first race which was a state time trial championships and I came second, so….

PEZ: So how did you feel when the doctor told you that you would have to give up competitive sport?
Everyone tells you what you can’t do, no one says what you can do. There are a lot of preconceptions around of what you can’t do. One of the girls I was helping in the team I was in was a nurse. She would tell me ‘you can’t eat this or you can’t have that.’ I have a big sweet tooth, so in my head I’m thinking that’s it, my life is over: I can’t eat anything nice, I can’t exercise, I can’t ride my bike, no one tells you what you actually can do. That’s what this team is all about, getting that message out that you don’t have to give up on your dreams.

Cycling: 5th Tour Dubai 2018 / Stage 4 Christopher Williams of Australia /  Skydive Dubai - Hatta Dam 402m (190km)/  Dubai Municipality Stage / Dubai Tour  / © Tim De Waele

PEZ: How did you feel when the team offered you a place?
Excited and also hesitant. When you race for a Continental team, specially from Australia with all the travel and the license expense and everything, it’s difficult to weigh up if it is a step ahead or a step backwards? But at the end of the day I love riding my bike and to have the opportunity to do it as a job, I couldn’t say no to it and now this is my 6th season with the team.

PEZ: Can you tell us more about your ride in the Post Danmark Tour?
I had been in the break in a few stages and then we got to the short stage, which I had been looking forward to, but it was insanely windy and I got the feeling to one was interested in trying to ride out front on their own in the wind, so I thought I would a crack at it and see what happens. There was a lot of tail-wind, but it turned out there was a head-wind as well. I with two other guys, one guy dropped off and we got to the laps at the end and it was a bit wet and I just assumed the bunch was right behind us and I could see our DS at the side, as we came round for the laps, just screaming at me, so I thought maybe we’re in for a chance here. Anyway, just 50 meters before the line I got caught. After that I didn’t think about it at first, ‘ah well, I tried’, but afterwards I thought ‘if I had just pedaled a bit harder in that corner I could have made it’ but you can’t dwell on that forever.

Odense - Denmark - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme -   Daniel Foder of Team Trefor Blue Water lead a breakaway followed by Christopher Williams of Team Novo Nordisk pictured during stage - 4 of the Tour of Denmark between Skanderborg and Vejle on August 8, 2014 in Skanderborg, Denmark  - photo Lars Ronbog/Cor Vos © 2014
Chris with Daniel Foder on stage 4 of the Tour of Denmark

PEZ: Would you say that was a high point in your career?
No, not really. I always try for a breakaway, that’s my job essentially to go in the breaks and work for the rest of the team. I always try so hopefully one day it pays off. The highlight for me is racing with guys I used to watch on TV, in Australia I would stay up to one or two am to watch the races. Then I was on the start-line in the Sparkasse GP in Berlin, I think it was, I was lined up with Cancellara, when I was with Champion System, it was just doing a race with someone I had been watching winning races on TV was just an amazing thing for me. That’s a highlight for me, just being able to do it, yeah.

PEZ: Are you the oldest in the team and do the young guys ask your advice?
Yeah, by far the ‘old man’ of the team. We have so many guys from so many different countries and English can be a barrier for some of them, but some will ask me about things like ‘Whereabouts’ and the day-to-day runnings and advice on how to do certain things. I’m seen as ‘Old man Williams’ or ‘Grandpa’ some of the young guys call me. That’s why I’m here really, to give them some wisdom, if I can from my experience. I see that as my job.

Cycling: 5th Tour Dubai 2018 / Stage 4 Christopher Williams of Australia /  Skydive Dubai - Hatta Dam 402m (172km)/  Dubai Municipality Stage / Dubai Tour  / © Tim De Waele

PEZ: Some of the younger guys have maybe been diabetic for a longer time than you?
Yes, but when it comes to diabetes it’s not necessarily the longer you’ve had it, the more you know. We are all getting advice from each other, getting tips. I might have been doing something that works and so would be reluctant to change, so you don’t go looking for better options. When you have fifteen other guys around you that have diabetes and fifteen other guys might be doing something different, so you are always looking for that bit of advice from one another.

PEZ: So what is the big dream for you (at your age)?
For me… at my age! I like to do different races and for five years our calendar has been much the same from year to year, so this year it is exciting that we have added some different races: We are in Japan, a few more races in Spain and some other races. So that’s exciting for me, just to be able to do something different and I also enjoy the racing in China at the end of the year. A lot of guys don’t, I don’t enjoy the bus transfers a lot of the time, but just the style of racing there I enjoy. It’s very aggressive and the breakaways have a chance and an opportunity, so I look forward those races. The races in Europe can be a bit boring because they are predictable: A break goes right form the start, strong teams control, it comes back together for someone at the end. In Asia you never know what’s going to happen till the end.

Cycling: 5th Tour Dubai 2018 / Stage 4 Christopher Williams of Australia / Conor Dunne of Ireland / Robin Carpenter of The United States / Brandon Mcnulty of The United States / Xiaolong Sun of China / Simone Bevilacqua of Italy /  Skydive Dubai - Hatta Dam 402m (190km)/  Dubai Municipality Stage / Dubai Tour  / © Tim De Waele

PEZ: Your favorite races?
I have really enjoyed the Tour of Korea, a couple of years ago we were second on GC, and the Tour of Hainan. We do a lot of hard races, we rode in five WorldTour races last year, we are there to try to get in a breakaway, if something happens it happens, but we are numbers basically. When we are racing in Asia I enjoy that as we can compete there and we can put our team together for those races, so I really enjoy those smaller races in Asia.

PEZ: What do you think you will do after your cycling career?
Well, I was a school teacher, but I’m not too keen on it. I’ve been out of the game for a little bit, they have probably reinvented the wheel about five times since then, but I’m looking to study to be a diabetes educator. So hopefully go back and do my masters on dietetics and nutrition and be a diabetes educator from there. It’s a long process, but by being around all the diabetes stuff in the team, it’s got to be a good thing.

Cycling: 5th Tour Dubai 2018 / Stage 1 Start / Christopher Williams of Australia, Brian Kamstra of The Netherlands, Quentin Valognes of France / Team Novo Nordisk (USA)/ Team BMC Racing Team (USA)/  Skydive Dubai - Palm Jumeirah (167km)/  Nakheel Stage / Dubai Tour  / © Tim De Waele

PEZ: What is the best thing about Team Novo Nordisk?
I know a lot of guys, specially in the last few years like Campbell Flakemore, that have quit cycling because they are looking for more meaning, or purpose in what they are doing and I think Team Novo Nordisk because they have that second meaning, that we are out there reaching out to people with diabetes it makes it different. We are not just racing a bike to cross the line first, we are there to send a message to the 450 million people around the World and I think that’s the best part about Team Novo Nordisk. I get to ride my bike for a living and get to spread that message at the same time.

PEZ: What would you say to someone who has just been diagnosed with diabetes?
To those who have just been diagnose: Don’t focus on the negatives, there are a lot of positives and life doesn’t have to change drastically, you don’t have to stop what you are doing and totally change the direction of your life. A lot of people will tell you the negative things and all the things that can go wrong, but a lot of stuff can go right as well.

# Thanks and good luck to Chris and to Fitzalan Crowe for setting up the interview. You can find more information on Team Novo Nordisk HERE on their website. #


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