Phil Southerland and Joe Eldridge founded Team Type 1 several years ago with two primary objectives: to raise awareness for diabetes, and to win a whole bunch of bike races.
The past few weeks are precisely what they had in mind.
The team comprised primarily of cyclists with diabetes dominated one of the most prestigious single-day races in the United States, has a chance of gaining UCI ProTour status — and eventual entry into the Tour de France — and even has a rider with Olympic aspirations.
All the success on the pavement has generated more awareness for the seminars and community events that they do before each race for diabetics and parents of diabetics.
"Every single one of my riders — at least the ones that can speak English — have told me that it means so much to them that they're not just riding for a sponsor," said Southerland, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 7 months old. "They're riding for a message."
There's certainly a growing audience, too.
An estimated 25 million children and adults in the U.S. have diabetes, and approximately 7 million of them are undiagnosed, according to the American Diabetes Association. That number is increasing by nearly 2 million per year.
The result of that in 2007 was approximately $116 billion in direct medical costs.
"The people with diabetes are our No. 1 customer," said Southerland, whose memoir "Not Dead Yet: My Race Against Disease from Diagnosis to Dominance" chronicles his own story.
"If we can deliver them inspiration, we're doing our job," Southerland said. "We know in cycling, it's not a very visible sport in the U.S. It's growing and growing rapidly, but we know we have to get to the highest level to deliver this inspiration to the world."
That's where the success in the peloton comes into play.
Last month in Greenville, S.C., Kiel Reijnen used a strong finishing kick to finish third in USA Cycling's road national championships, beating out some of the premier names in American cycling: George Hincapie, Tejay Van Garderen and David Zabriskie.
Then last weekend, Alexsandr Serebryakov won the prestigious Philadelphia International Championship, followed closely by teammate Aldo Ino Ilesic and Daniele Colli in fourth place.
"We're an American team, so the American races are really important for us to perform well," Reijnen said. "We were really looking forward to Philadelphia, so to go there and do what we did — not just win but dominate the race — was a great experience, and it came at the right time."
That's because the team had been passed over earlier this year for entry in the Tour of California, but is still awaiting word on whether it will be invited to the Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, two other significant stage races held on American soil.
"We were disappointed about California," Eldridge said. "A lot of fans expected to see us there, and there's huge interaction that week with the diabetes community, so we missed that week in California this year. So, what can we do to make sure we get the invitation every time?"
Winning races is a good place to start.
The team will be going up against the world's top teams at the Tour of Switzerland, which starts this weekend and is a major prep race for the Tour de France. Team Type 1 is also scheduled to send a team to China for a series of races in the coming weeks and months.
Then there are the Summer Olympics in late July. Vegard Stake Laengen is an alternate for the Norwegian team that will be competing on some of the most famous roads in London.
"Everybody watches the Olympics," said Eldridge, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 10. "A lot of people watch the Tour de France, but everyone watches the Olympics."
That's ultimately the point of Team Type 1: Put diabetes in front of the public.
"We're trying to do things on the global scale," Southerland said. "We're bringing a whole new set of fans to cycling that have never watched it before, and we have 25 million American teammates with diabetes. Most of these people didn't watch cycling until Team Type 1. Hopefully race promoters notice that and there are some good opportunities moving forward."
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