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Novo Nordisk trainee Kamstra gets USA Pro Challenge test after just a handful of races

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Brian Kamstra (Novo Nordisk)

Brian Kamstra (Novo Nordisk) (Image credit: Tim de Waele/
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Brian Kamstra (Novo Nordisk)

Brian Kamstra (Novo Nordisk) (Image credit: Team Novo Nordisk)

To say Novo Nordisk stagiaire Brian Kamstra got thrown into the deep end this week at the USA Pro Challenge would be a massive understatement.

The 22-year-old Dutchman moved from the all-diabetic team’s development squad to the Pro Continental team with just a handful of bike races under his belt; he entered his first bike race with the development team in April at the 2.2 Joe Martin Stage Race in Arkansas.

Kamstra may be new to cycling, but he isn’t new to competition. He is a four-time Dutch national champion in cross country running and won the European Cross Country Running Championship in 2011.

But Kamstra knew something was wrong in 2013 when he trained harder, yet his performance decreased. After seeking medical attention, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The diagnosis actually came as a relief for Kamstra because it was a manageable condition that allowed him to continue competing. With the help of his health care team, Kamstra resumed running as soon as he could.

But a chance encounter with Novo Nordisk’s Martijn Verschoor at a diabetes charity ride in 2014 eventually led to Kamstra’s start this week in Colorado.

“He introduced me to the team, we sent an email and they invited me to their training camp in Spain,” he told Cyclingnews Wednesday in Aspen. “I did some physical tests there and they were amazed. They offered me a spot on the development team. So I joined the development team and now I’m here.”

Kamstra knew the team had him listed as a reserve for the race, but when Verschoor crashed hard in the Tour of Denmark and he got the call, he was still shocked.

“I was a little bit scared,” he said. “But I said, ‘OK, this is the start of my professional career, and we will see. We do it step by step and every day do a little bit more. I did two stages and almost three. It was hard.”

Kamstra finished the first two stages in Colorado in 97th and 109th, respectively, but he abandoned stage 3 after falling too far off the back. It was obviously a difficult entry into professional cycling for a rider with less than 10 race days in his legs, but it’s an effort that he’s nevertheless quite proud of.

“It’s hard to race in this kind of peloton, because there are so many world-class cyclists here,” he said. “For me, for a guy who started cycling so late, I need some time to get on this level. I think it’s possible to be there in one or two years and then compete with those guys. But for now I’m not that strong.”

Although it was a rough introduction, Kamstra already picked up some tricks of the trade, like using the race caravan to work his way back to the bunch after getting dropped.

“[During stage 2] I dropped three times and came back every time,” he said. “The first stage was a little it hard. Somebody crashed in front of me, the big crash, and I needed to chase there. I came back in the second group and finished in the second group. So that wasn’t bad, but I still need to learn a lot. But for now I’m happy to race with these guys, and it’s good for me.”

The biggest adjustment for Kamstra has just been learning his way around the bike and developing the leg strength specific to cycling, like using the biggers gears during certain points in the race.

“For me it’s pretty hard because my legs were not used to that,” he said. “But it’s getting better and better.

“Climbing is one of my stronger points, but in this field it’s also not really, really good. But I can hang on in the climbs, and hopefully next year when I come back I can compete in the front groups and do something cool for the team and for the people here.

“It’s cool to finish two stages with these guys, and hopefully I can compete over the next couple of races with them,” he said. “That’s the big goal.”

Pat Malach

Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.