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National Cycling League preview: A wild new race format and $1 million up for grabs

What you need to know before the splashy new league kicks off its inaugural season in Miami on Saturday.

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The North American professional road cycling landscape has changed quite drastically over the last two decades, with the number of races and top teams steadily declining. 

At the top end, UCI-level races have all but dried up, leaving only the one-day Maryland Cycling Classic in the United States, down from the heyday of multiple week-long stage races. At lower levels, the races that give up and coming riders the opportunity to show their stuff are also folding. 

And throughout cycling, teams’ fortunes are intertwined with those of their sponsors: if the money dries up, so does the team — or the team adopts a new sponsor, likely with a new jersey design and team identity. 

The upstart National Cycling League hopes to reverse this trend by bringing a more sustainable model to cycling on this side of the Atlantic, one with an exciting race format unlike anything else in cycling, and with team ownership modeled after major U.S. sports leagues. 

The first race kicks off Saturday April 8 in Miami Beach. Here’s what makes the NCL race format unique, how to watch, and all the other information you need to know.

A race format unlike any other

At a glance, an NCL race looks like any other criterium: short four-corner courses in urban areas repeatedly lapped with fast-paced action. 

The similarities end pretty quickly. 

Unlike a traditional road race where the only thing that matters is crossing the finish first on the final lap, in the NCL points are scored on every lap. Each race is 30 laps long, providing 30 scoring opportunities. 

For the first 29 laps, there are points for first, second, and third place, which receive three, two, and one points respectively. The final lap still scores only the top three riders, but the points increase to nine, six, and three. Additionally, anyone who laps the field gets nine bonus points. 

However, a team winning one race does not guarantee winning the weekend’s entire event.

That’s because there are two races at each event, one for women and one for men. Each team is made up of both a women’s squad and a men’s squad who race the same course for 30 laps for the same amount of points, and whose points contribute toward the team total.

The winning team at each event is whoever scores the most cumulative points between the men’s and women’s races.

While many pro cycling teams have both men’s and women’s teams, they effectively operate as independent entities; In the NCL, the men’s and women’s squads have to be one united team in order to succeed.

The format should make for a livelier race as teams battle it out every single lap for points, instead of just sitting in until the final few laps and going for the final sprint. How teams approach a race will be interesting to see, especially because a team’s tactics could change for the men’s race, depending on how the women’s squad does in the race before — do they need to go on the offensive, or defend a lead?

Point totals for each race will count toward an overall score at the end of the four-race season, with prize money awarded to the top teams. 

Point totals for each race will count toward an overall score at the end of the four-race season, with prize money awarded to the top teams.

That’s not the only factor that will impact race strategy, however. Teams will also be allowed to substitute in a fresh rider during the race. 

Substitutions? Yes, really. 

The scoring aspect is already different from other road races. But the ability to substitute in fresh riders takes things to another level.

For each race, teams will have to field a minimum of four riders per gender, and a maximum of five, and in addition will be allowed one substitute rider.

The substitute can enter the race either if a mechanical happens, or for a tactical advantage to replace a tired rider. 

Opposite the course from the finish line is a pit area. In order for a team to use a substitute, an active rider must exit the race into the pit area and step on a timing mat at which point the substitute teammate can enter the race from an unassisted start, with one-foot on the ground.  

There will not, however, be free laps like in other USA Cycling sanctioned criteriums. Teams must use a substitution instead if any flats or other mechanicals occur.

$1 million prize purse

Teams will be competing for a lot more than gift card primes. The NCL has put a $1 million prize purse on the table for the first season, divvied out a few different ways.

Prize money will be awarded to the top teams in each race, as well as for the overall team standings at the end of the four-race season. 

The top-10 teams will win prize money for each race weekend, with the winning team getting $7,500. The runners up will receive decreasing amounts until 10th place, which wins $1,500. In total, $30,000 will be awarded each race, for a total of $120,000 over the season.

The top-10 teams will win money each race.

Another $130,000 has been earmarked for the overall standings. The top team after four races will receive $45,000, with decreasing amounts through 10th place. 

Prize money will be awarded to the top teams at the end of the season.

That’s $250,000 for those keeping track at home. The rest of that $1 million prize purse comes from a bonus competition called the “quadruple and triple crown.”

If one team wins all four races, it will receive a $700,000 bonus; winning three races will earn a team a $100,000 bonus. In order to claim the bonus, both the men’s and women’s squads within the winning team must win at least one race. 

The teams

The NCL is comprised of two trade teams that function like teams in the NBA or NFL in that they are tied to a specific city and have consistent team names instead of sponsor names in the hopes of creating stronger ties within a community.

The NCL has plans to expand to include more franchise teams in the future, but for the inaugural season the two NCL teams will be joined by 13 additional invited teams.

NCL Teams:

  • Denver Disruptors
  • Miami Nights

You can learn more about the Disruptors and Nights over at

Invited Teams:

  • CCB – Alpine Carbon p/b Levine Law Group
  • Foundation Cycling New York
  • Fount Cycling Guild
  • Goldman Sachs ETFS Racing
  • Kelly Benefits Cycling
  • Monarch Racing
  • Primeau Vélo Racing
  • Roxo Racing
  • Team Mike’s Bikes p/b Equator Coffees
  • Team Skyline
  • Team
  • Texas Roadhouse Cycling p/b VQ Labs
  • Voler Factory Racing

The Schedule

Four races are on the calendar for the inaugural season.

  • Miami Beach — April 8
  • Atlanta — May 4
  • Denver — August 13
  • Washington, D.C. — September 17

The first race kicks off this weekend in Miami with the women’s race at 4:15 p.m. EDT, followed by the men’s race at 5:45 p.m. EDT.

How to Watch

NCL races will be streamed on GCN+. 

Fans can attend the races in person for free just like any other professional cycling race. There are ticketed VIP areas as well.

Miami Beach Invitational Course

The first race will take place on a four-corner criterium-style course with the start and finish line located along Ocean Drive, which has, no surprise here, an ocean view. 

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.