Hopeful yet sceptical seems to be the mindset of fervent cycling fans for the start of the National Cycling League on Saturday, April 8 in Miami Beach. The rubber hits the road under neon lights and palm trees for the first of four rounds of the criterium series, which is set to stop later in Atlanta, Georgia and Denver, Colorado, and culminate in Washington, D.C. to disperse all, or part of, $1 million in prize money among 10 teams.
Also hopeful is league co-founder Paris Wallace, part of a robust organisation that is focused on growing the sport of cycling with a zesty new take on racing on two wheels. The NCL is spicing up the criterium world in the US with new venues, new rules and new technology. It’s all about capturing a new audience.
Potential cycling fans are too many to count, especially with a pro criterium set to take place for the first time on famous Ocean Drive in Miami Beach just a week from now. Organisers are working to deliver safe races, earning opportunities for athletes, and big numbers for investors and partners. They embark on a purposeful path to grow the sport, looking to nab those potential fans and get them hooked on cycling.
|April 8, 2023||Miami Beach, Florida|
|May 14, 2023||Atlanta, Georgia|
|August 13, 2023||Denver, Colorado|
|September 17, 2023||Washington, DC|
“We’ve captured people’s imagination, I think. Change is always exciting, but also confusing. And so I think once people have seen our first race and our first events on April 8, a lot more is going to be clear,” Wallace told Cyclingnews as he and his staff entered a final week of planning for the debut.
“We’re really focused on having a safe and incredible race in Miami. We think it’s going to be the biggest bike race in the US this year, in terms of viewership. We think it’s going to captivate a new generation of cycling fans,” Wallace told Cyclingnews.
“But I also think that we’re gonna get some things wrong and we’re gonna have some things to focus on to get better. We’re really focused on having an amazing season this year that give people the chance to say, ‘Yes, I’m into this’, or ‘No, I’m not into this’.”
Prizes and scoring
The NCL has boasted a $1 million prize purse and it has become one of the most-noticed differentiators for this entity among advocates, and critics. Well, it is true. While the initial thinking was a winner-take-all formula, organisers have created a system for all teams to be rewarded during the season.
“We really thought about how we can structure something that works for everyone. And so, we did want to make sure that there was prize money available throughout the season, and not just at the end,” Wallace explained. “One team with a million dollars, it’s a cool headline. But at the end of the day we want to grow cycling and support every team who’s participating. What people are going to remember us for is fierce competition.”
The NCL has created a Quadruple Crown and 70% of the prize purse goes to the one team that can sweep all four races – Miami Beach, Atlanta, Denver and Washington, D.C. The closest similarity is the Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing, where the biggest payday and spotlight comes to one team – horse, jockey, trainer, stable – for winning three major races. If one team wins three of the four races, then $100,000 is awarded for a Triple Crown.
|Per race||$30,000||1st – 10th|
|NCL Cup Bonus||$130,000||Split between teams that race all 4|
|Triple Crown||$100,000||Team that wins 3 rounds|
|Quadruple Crown||70% of total||Team that wins all 4 rounds|
Each individual race offers a $30,000 prize purse, paid to all teams from first to 10 places, for a total of $120,000. Also on the line for teams is a $130,000 NCL Cup Bonus, with fully participating teams earning a share based on final standings, $45,000 for the first-placed team to $5,000 each to teams seventh to 10th places.
Wallace also said the league would distribute up to $140,000 in ‘direct support to teams for accommodations and travel’. There are no registration fees for the invited squads, and organisers say they provide a great deal of publicity for the teams, and sponsors, on a global stage with live GCN broadcasts across the board.
“Teams don’t have huge budgets. So the idea of competing in an event in major media areas that are very expensive to get to, and accommodating everything else, we realized that this idea of having a winner-take-all really means that anyone who doesn’t win would not have the resources and the ability to compete.”
The NCL races are shorter than typical criterium events, substitutions are allowed and the first rider across the finish line after 30, or so laps, is not the winner. Make sense? Maybe not for full-fledged racing fans, but again, they aren’t the target audience.
Most casual observers at bicycle races are confused by traditional lap counts and scoring, so the NCL adjusted the rules to make it easier to follow. Each race will have a set number of laps based on the course setup, 30 laps in Miami with a 1.5km course. Teams score points on each lap. Men’s and women’s teams combine total points to determine the team standings.
|Lap numbers||Points for top 3|
|1-29 (or through next-to-last lap)||3 for first, 2 for second, 1 for third|
|30 (or final lap)||9 for first, 6 for second, 3 for third|
|Gained lap on field||9 points for each rider|
Then there will be new pit technology to allow one rider substitution during each race for each team. When a rider exits the pit area, opposite on the course from the start/finish to avoid chaos, a sensor then triggers the release of a replacement rider into the field at a similar position. There are restrictions on when the substitutions can take place.
When a rider exits the course, he or she goes over a mat and that triggers sensor for the replacement rider who is “released in relation to the time it would take them to travel that same distance at the speed they are going. So at Miami, it’s like 1.65 seconds,” explained Reed McCalvin, VP for teams for NCL.
Fans will be able to follow the standings with a Leaderboard, think along the lines of motorsports, which will keep track of lap points on course-side video display, on the web site and on the GCN broadcast graphics.
2023 National Cycling League teams
- Denver Disruptors
- Miami Nights
- Fount Cycling Guild
- Team Skyline
- CCB Racing (men) with Foundation Cycling (women)
- Texas Roadhouse Cycling (men) with Goldman Sachs ETFs (women)
- Team Mike’s Bikes p/b Equator Coffees (men) with Monarch Racing (women)
- Voler Factory Racing (men) with Roxo Racing (women)
- 10th pending
“I really want to give a shout out to those teams that saw the vision of equality, and believe in this mission. It’s pretty unorthodox,” Wallace said.
As of March 28, nine of the 10 teams have confirmed to participate in the invitation-only criterium series. Wallace said teams from all levels – Continental, Domestic Elite and club – were considered during the formulation of the series. While fans familiar with bicycle racing seemed nervous that teams were not confirmed over the winter, Wallace said it was a plan to have thorough evaluations and then sign contracts before making public announcements.
“We wanted to announce our teams after everyone signed their contracts. Unfortunately, [the delay] caused some confusion. We’re very, very, very focused on all of the teams in our series, making sure it’s an incredible experience for all of them – a global platform to show off their riders, their teams, their sponsors, and really lift us cycling with our investment.”
Two teams were created by the league itself, first-year US domestic elite squads Denver Disruptors and Miami Nights. They have rosters of veteran riders which will not only race in the series but compete with a full road schedule. Three other squads support both men and women with a unified, or ‘co-ed’ affiliation – Fount Cycling Guild, Team Skyline and SupraBars.com – and are established programmes on the DE level.
The four other roster spots have been filled by partnerships between existing club or DE men’s and women’s teams which focused on one gender – CCB Racing (men) with Foundation Cycling (women), Texas Roadhouse Cycling (men) with Goldman Sachs ETFs (women), Team Mike’s Bikes p/b Equator Coffees (men) with Monarch Racing (women) and Voler Factory Racing (men) with Roxo Racing (women).
McCalvin added that the four-race schedule was set to avoid conflicts with existing events on the 10-race American Criterium Cup series, which opens April 22 in Athens, Georgia. Rosters and the full list of 10 teams is expected to be announced in the coming days.
Groundwork for the future
The NCL is taking time with some of its plans, like expanding to new cities or adding new technology, as it wants a solid base in 2023. This year the league will try qualifying races at some events the day before the sanctioned competition to determine positions on the start grid. Qualifiers may be, but are not limited to, street sprints, flying lap time trial, team relay, or a virtual race.
“It’s evolving in line with our mission and our vision, which is to grow cycling, diverse ownership, gender equity, sustainability. And so that’s what really guides our decisions that we’re making. We’ve made massive commitments to the industry, to our riders, to the other teams that are participating, and we need to make sure that we’re able to deliver on those not just this year,” Wallace said.
For 2024, early expansion plans for the league included adding more geographic locations to the series, as many as eight locations. Now, Wallace said there may be a different approach.
“One of the things we’re thinking about, frankly, is going from a one race per weekend format to a two race per weekend format. And so if we did the exact same thing, we’d have eight races versus four,” Wallace said. “And that seems like a better way to do it for a variety reasons. We definitely should add two races per weekend because it’s more work, but it’s not two times more work.”
Alongside Wallace as a co-founder is David Mulugheta, an NFL agent and president of Team Sports, Athletes First. With several other founders, they brought in venture and celebrity backing that includes sports stars such as Jalen Ramsey (Los Angeles Rams), Derwin James (Los Angeles Chargers) and Kevin Byard (Tennessee Titans) and Michele Roberts (former executive director of the National Basketball Players Association).
“I mean, we’ve already had such an outpouring of excitement, obviously from partners, and investors who haven’t seen what we’re doing. And I think once they do, they’re going to be even more excited. Right now, we’re just focused on putting on a really safe, fun event for all the teams and showing the world what we’re up to.
“And then based on our successes and our learnings from this year, think about what’s possible for next year.”