Rwanda: Team Novo Nordisk fights for respect, diabetes education with Lozano’s stage win

Rwanda: Team Novo Nordisk fights for respect, diabetes education with Lozano’s stage win

11/08/2018 at 16:16Updated 11/08/2018 at 17:09

In a week of near misses and national media putdowns, Spaniard David Lozano stands atop the penultimate stage podium to silence the critics at 10th Tour du Rwanda …

During the same week Team Novo Nordisk rider David Lozano (ESP) posted two runner-ups and a third-place result, a local Rwandan radio show made some rather disparaging remarks about the world’s only all-diabetic professional sports team according to team co-founder and CEO Phil Southerland.

“We heard on sports radio in Kigali, which goes out to the entire country, that diabetics can’t compete and that we’re a joke,” Southerland told Eurosport prior to the Stage 7 start in Musanze on Saturday. “That’s unfortunately the stigma surrounding the disease here in Rwanda, because for so many years here and in other developing countries diabetes is perceived as a death sentence.”

However, the 29-year-old mountain biker-turned-road cyclist from Spain took a huge step toward erasing any doubt about his athletic prowess with a sensational solo win over a gruelling, cobbled penultimate stage at the 2018 Tour du Rwanda in Kigali.

“But I had a teammate there with me. [Rik van IJzendoorn] pulled me back and did his best to put me there and just when I made contact it split and I managed to get it. Then it was just about being the smartest.”

And as far as the critics are concerned, Lozano believes victories are the best retort.

“We are showing we can race, and we are knocking on the door every stage,” he explained. “I wanted to prove we can win. Second is a good result, but winning is something else.”

When asked if he was surprised by the stigma still attached to those living with diabetes, Lozano admits that is he not, but that to “inspire, educate and empower” is the mission of the team.

“I am not surprised,” said Lozano, who is fifth on general classification just 23 seconds off the final podium. “There are a lot of people affected with diabetes and you will always have a lot of opinions floating around, but for those that still like say diabetes is a handicap — it’s why we exist.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Southerland, who joined his team earlier in the week for what he refers to as “one of his favourite races in the world” and actually rode the 107.5-kilometre stage just prior to the finish.

“David Lozano has been so close all week long and for him to take the top step on the podium in front of a million fans in Kigali, and for all the announcers to say he is doing this with diabetes is a monumental step for Team Novo Nordisk — and more importantly for all the kids with diabetes in this country and around the world to see we are champions,” said Southerland, whose team has achieved podium results at the Amgen Tour of California, Tour de Korea and Le Tour de Filipinas since stepping up to UCI Professional Continental in 2011.

“I’m speechless,” he continued. “I am so proud of David. He’s worked so hard for this — what can I say? But this is our chance to show Rwanda, East Africa and the entire world what is possible when you take control of diabetes.

“Diabetes is our superpower, it’s not a weakness. It’s not a death sentence.”

Mugisha, 20, who also rides for WorldTour development team Dimension Data for Qhubeka, maintains his 21-second lead over Uwizeye with only the eighth and final stage containing two passes up and over the ‘Wall of Kigali’ looming on Sunday.

Photo: Nils Laengner