Joonas Henttala is a professional cyclist with Team Novo Nordisk. Joonas started the 2016 Tour of California aggressively. We was the first rider to attack after the neutral start of Stage 1. This created a break away with 6 other riders that was off the front for over 85 miles. The break away was reeled back in before the final 3, resulting in a bunch sprint. Joonas’s teammate on Team Novo Nordisk – Martijn Verschoor – was able to capture a 5th place finish against some of the best sprinters in the world.
We caught up with Joonas Henttala before the start of the Tour of California to ask him some questions about his life as a professional cyclist, overcoming Type 1 Diabetes, and competing at the highest levels of the sport.
JustAnotherCyclist: I understand you got started in bike racing at a pretty early age. What interested you about racing bikes?
Joonas Henttala: My dad used to be a racer and I always loved riding my bike. My hometown, Porvoo, has a strong cycling culture for Finland, so that also helped.
JAC: You were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at a young age too. Did that impact your racing plans?
JH: My diagnosis didn’t impact my racing plans much at all. I received some good advice from people close to me and my healthcare team and I was able to take charge of my management early on. I have always seen myself as an ambitious bike racer who also happens to have diabetes.
JAC: You’re riding in the upcoming Tour of California. You’ve raced Tour of California before, correct?
JH: Yes, I raced at the Tour of California in 2014 and 2015. It’s a beautiful race and I love that I get to come back and race here again. We are an American-registered team, so this is considered a “home” race for us. We have big goals for the race this year and I hope we can get some results and at the same time, show the world what may be possible with diabetes.
JAC: Do you have to think about your diabetes management differently in a longer stage race compared to one day events?
JH: There are some slight changes, but it really isn’t that different. Diabetes is a very individual condition and for me, I find it less challenging to manage my diabetes on stage races versus one-day races. It’s important to keep in mind that during race days there are many different variables that can affect my blood sugar, including stress, adrenaline, race intensity, weather conditions and altitude.
JAC: Any particular goals or targets for the team in California this year?
JH: There are a lot of climbs this year so we have Javi (Megias) and David (Lozano), who are both great climbers, ready to attack on those stages. Javi is also the rider who is designated to go for the overall win (General Classification). For me specifically, I’m on the hunt to get into breakaways and I’ll help the other guys like Martijn (Verschoor) and Andrea (Peron) to get into good position for the sprint finishes.
JAC: Do you get assistance from Team Novo Nordisk support and medical staff monitoring your diabetes during the races?
JH: For optimal performance, I need to keep my blood sugar in a target range. If my blood sugar is out of target, I may need to make adjustments and the medical staff is on site during the race support us if we need any assistance.
JAC: Does riding with diabetes present any additional concerns when the UCI talks about banning radios from professional races?
JH: Radios were banned, but they are actually back. Just like other teams, we use race radios for team tactics and can always radio back to the car if we need anything. Even without radio, we always have a member of our medical team in the car and we can drop back to the car and ask them a question if we need anything.
JAC: How did you come to be involved with Team Novo Nordisk?
JH: I visited Team Novo Nordisk’s development team in 2012 and did a few races with them. Based on my time there and some earlier results from that year, it was enough to convince the management to offer me a pro contract for the 2013 season.
JAC: Have you encountered many other Type 1 diabetics out there racing, aside from Team Novo Nordisk?
JH: Growing up, there was a really good masters racer in Finland who also had diabetes. I really looked up to him. I believe he even won the Scandinavian championships. Unfortunately, he passed away from cancer a couple years ago but he was very instrumental in my growth and knowing that I could still chase my dreams following my diabetes diagnosis. One of the things I love about Team Novo Nordisk is being able to serve as a role model to help inspire, educate and empower people affected by diabetes all over the world.