Joe Eldridge has one of the most unique stories in the peloton. As one of the founders of Team Type 1 as well as a multiple winner at the Race Across America, Eldridge is racing his bike to send a message that type-1 diabetes doesn’t need to slow you down.
Eldridge is debuting his 2011 season in a whirlwind, first with a trip to India followed by a scheduled start at the revived Tour of South Africa this weekend. The Georgia native will be racing in Europe, Asia and the United States as Team Type 1 enters its most ambitious season yet as it steps into the pro-continental ranks.
We caught up with Eldridge last week to talk racing in India, the team’s ambitions and how he manages his diabetes against the demands of the pro peloton:
VeloNews: How was the racing in India? You were in the breakaway in Nashik, was that the plan?
Joe Eldridge: This my first race of the season, and after the long travel, it was tough for me. I was to take some pressure off by getting in the early move. We got over the climb and the peloton was in pieces after that. About 30 riders got eliminated on the climb, there was a headwind coming back. No one really knew when the flag had dropped, everybody said, we’re still in traffic, so we’re not going to start. Once we got on the big highway, the race was really fast in the first three hours.
VN: You’ve raced all over the world, what’s your impression of racing in India?
JE: It was a cool race, with the terrain and the atmosphere, so it’s really neat to see that. On the rollout, there were still motorcycles and cars driving next to us, but we’re in India, it’s one of the most populated places on earth, so you’re gonna have to deal with that in a race. There’s no way they can shut this whole place down. India has a huge talent pool; it’s just a matter of tapping into it. If they’re willing to put the resources behind it to develop a national team, it will take a little bit of time. A country like Malaysia did it with the Tour of Langkawi, now they’re winning stages, whereas before they couldn’t stay in the bunch.
VN: When did you arrive in India?
JE: I flew in from Georgia, with about a 24-hour travel day. I got in morning before at 4 a.m., so it was tough to acclimate. We got out on a training ride, because the roads were completely open, we had really big trucks passing us. That was entertaining; we got the video camera out for some of that.
VN: The team is really stepping up this year, what are the expectations?
JE: It’s really exciting to see the development over the past five years of where we’ve come from to where we’re going to go. Hopefully, we’ll get into the big races and make a name for ourselves. Last weekend, in our first start in Europe, we had a podium and we had riders in the breakaways. I think we had a top-10 almost every day.
VN: The team has a unique story, how did it all start?
JE: Phil Southerland and I met at a collegiate race. I was racing for Auburn University and he was University of Georgia. I saw him checking his sugar after a race, and we just struck up conversation and had this idea of how we can use the bike to inspire people with diabetes to manage their disease and take control of their destiny and future. There are a lot of complications that people can have if they don’t take control of their disease. It makes it much easier to control with a bicycle, because anyone can ride a bike. Anybody with diabetes can do that. It makes your body more sensitive to the medications that you’re taking and makes your blood sugar easier to manage.
VN: There are six of you on the team with diabetes, correct? How do you monitor your blood sugar during a race?
JE: Yes, we have six on the professional team with diabetes, three of us are there. That’s what this is (points to a monitor attached to the back of his arm). It’s a continuous monitor, and I have this in my pocket (a digital reader) and the whole time I am checking it. I hit the button and see what my numbers are. I will eat based on that, I also carry insulin with me if I need it, even do an injection. It’s really key. It’s just like other guys might use a heart-rate monitor. It’s more important for me than the speedometer to see how I can go. If it’s too high, if it’s too low, then it’s not going to be good.
VN: How does the device work?
JE: It’s got a catheter that goes into my skin. A radio transmits that to the monitor and it provides my blood-sugar levels. You can set alarms or just pull it out and look at it. It really makes us able to compete at this level, without it, it would be really difficult.
VN: What can you do if your blood sugar levels are off?
JE: We eat or do an injection during the race of insulin, if it’s too high, to bring the blood sugar back down.
VN: So you must have some sort of permission from the UCI to take the injections?
JE: We all have TUE’s. It’s really kind of ground-breaking. One of our (doctors) knows one of the people at WADA who approves all the TUEs. When he saw all the requests from Team Type 1, he called us up, hey, I got all these guys who want TUEs! He thought it was pretty exciting to see.
VN: Has your diabetes ever been a problem during competition?
JE: In the past, I’ve had a few problems. Usually, I am 100 percent pro-active to make sure that diabetes is not what’s going to take me out of the race. The big thing is not to let it be the reason, because otherwise I cannot tell people what I do if I cannot manage it successfully.
VN: How do swings in your blood sugar impact your ability to perform in a race?
JE: It got me a few times racing last year, when I was either too high or too low. It completely takes you out of the race. If you’re too low, it’s like a super-bonk. If you’re too high, then you just have a perceived effort that the race is actually much harder than it really is, and you’re body’s working overtime to try to get extra sugar off your blood. It’s dangerous to not be within the range.