If you hadn’t heard of the new National Cycling League until now we wouldn’t blame you. Until recently, we knew little of the “first of its kind professional sports league built around 21st-century values and a groundbreaking technology platform” but when a Forbes article reported a successful $7.5 million round of funding and a quick Google search revealed support from former organizers of some of America’s largest races we were intrigued. The NCL is not to be confused with the organization with the same name from the ’80s, instead, it’s an entirely new entity looking to reinvigorate the sport with a modern non-endemic approach to criterium racing.
NBA and NFL athletes like Jalen Ramsey and Bradley Beal are among some of the investors backing the league. The NCL is putting together a million-dollar prize purse that 10 teams will be able to compete for over a four-race series. Miami, Atlanta, Denver and Washington D.C. will host the inaugural events in 2023. There have been few details released on the specifics of the race format but it seems likely it will blend a traditional track points race with primes and some form of scoring riders will earn each lap.
Those 21st-century values mentioned earlier are based around the “financial equity” (riders will earn equal pay and be provided equal resources by the league) and “majority-minority and women-owned” identity co-founders Paris Wallace and David Mulugheta cultivated. Wallace is a Miami-based entrepreneur and Mulugheta is a California-based sports agent. They brought in Kelly Staley former AEG Vice President to head Partnerships Development and Activation. Staley previously organized the Amgen Tour of California with AEG.
As for the groundbreaking technology platform, The NCL is planning to relay live rider biometric data during races and eventually provide a platform for e-racers to compete with racers in real-time online. In theory, linking the live heart-rate and power data of the riders seems challenging but possible to relay to a live race stream and eventually a Zwift-like platform in the wholly 21st-century metaverse.
TWO NEW TEAMS
Teams racing the series will consist of both men’s and women’s squads of at least six riders. They will race separately but be scored at each event as a unit. It’s a novel approach to classic criterium racing and will provide an additional aspect for teams to create a well-rounded squad.
The NCL is forming two co-ed teams to compete in the series as well as other criteriums and road races across the country. All of the riders will be receiving annual salaries in addition to competing for the million-dollar prize purse.
The two NCL teams follow in the footsteps of city-based team names proven successful by the L39ion of Los Angeles and Miami Blazers. While we can’t help but wonder if there could be a more crowd-sourced approach to the naming process, the Denver Disruptors and Miami Nights are the new additions. A total of 32 riders are split among the teams headlined by former WorldTour racer Sergio Henao and team time trial world champion Leah Kirchmann.
Olympian and multi-time Canadian national champ Svein Tuft takes on the role of directeur sportif or what most Americans would call “head coach”. Eight men and eight women will race for Tuft including Henao and Kirchmann.
“The Denver Disruptors’ greatest advantage is that we have a healthy mix of experienced riders with incredible international palmares blended with a powerful younger generation that will be able to learn from their extensive knowledge,” said Tuft. “We also will be focusing on the culture of the group. I’ve seen many times over my career that a team that rides for one another is far more powerful than a group of big individual names.”
Henao is the rider with the highest palmares coming to race the NCL. He won Paris-Nice in 2017, finishing two seconds ahead of Alberto Contador and was a part of Team Sky’s 2016 Tour de France victory. The 35-year-old Colombian retired from the WorldTour in 2021 but continued to race in the US last season earning fourth overall at Joe Martin Stage Race.
Leah Kirchmann comes to the Disruptors from Team DSM. Kirchmann won the team time trial world championships in 2017 and won the sprint competition at the 2020 Tour Down Under.
“I am excited to return to American racing to compete in this new and innovative series,” Kirchmann said. “The NCL will have a positive impact by engaging new fans into professional cycling, while also showing there is value in elevating all competitors equally.”
South African road race national champion, Reinhardt Janse van Rensburg and Romanian national champion Sergei Tvetcov are a part of the squad as well as the Greek road race national champion Iro Milaki.
Denver Disruptors Roster
|Elizabeth “Izzy” Harden||USA|
|Nerea Nuno Iglesias||Spain|
|Juan Estaban Arango Carvajal||Colombia|
|Ulises Alfredo Castillo||Mexico|
|Reinhardt Janse van Rensburg||South Africa|
A squad of scrappy veteran racers familiar with the American circuit look poised to head up the season for the Miami Nights. 38-year-old Australian Johnny Clarke picked up a spot following the unexpected dissolution of the Wildlife Generation Pro Team late this year. Clarke has raced extensively in the US for Pro Continental teams including United Health Care and Jelly Belly since 2005. Mexican Alfredo Rodriguez raced for the Best Buddies team in 2022 notching a strong second overall behind Luke Lamperti at Tulsa Tough. Venezuelan Clever Martinez joins the team after a successful 2022 season with 5 wins and 30 top-5 finishes for the Miami Blazers.
“The NCL is elevating criterium racing to its rightful status in the top tier of international professional cycling,” said Martinez. “I’m excited to race with and against stars from the road and track and bring the speed, skill, and entertainment of criteriums to fans everywhere.”
Olympians Daniely Garcia and Paola Munoz Grandon, representatives of Venezuela and Chile respectively join the squad as well.
Former United Healthcare and Jamis team director, Sebastian Alexandre, will be the team’s “Head Coach”.
Commenting on the upcoming season Alexandre said “The NCL will take criterium races to the next level. The riders will compete in a different style, bringing some of the style of track racing into the streets, where everyone can see and be a part of it.
“Cycling is an individual sport, but it is raced as a team and NCL’s goal is to increase the level of teamwork. Both teams – women and men – will race separately but will score for one team, and that’s unique.”
Miami Nights Roster
|Jeidy Pradera Bernal||Cuba|
|Taylor Kuyk White||USA|
|Paola Munoz Grandon||Chile|