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As much as Reed McCalvin likes European-style cycling races, he doesn’t think they impress Americans. A former physical therapist and operations manager for professional teams on both sides of the Atlantic, the Denverite saw how multiday races such as the Tour de France flourished in Europe but struggled to attract sponsors and television coverage in the United States. There was an obvious reason, he decided: Americans prefer short, action-packed events. In late July 2021, McCalvin shared his theory with a Miami-based health care entrepreneur and cycling enthusiast named Paris Wallace. Coincidentally, Wallace had already arrived at the same conclusions—and was willing to combine his finances and clout with McCalvin’s cycling connections to create something entirely new.
Almost two years later, on April 8, 2023, the National Cycling League (NCL) kicked off its inaugural four-race season in Miami Beach. The event featured 10 mixed-gender, 16-person teams, and in an effort to foster the regional fandoms common in other North American sports, two of them—the Denver Disruptors and the Miami Nights—were the NCL’s own creations. (Because the league is so new, the other eight squads were existing cycling teams.) Men and women took turns riding 30 laps each on a mile-long track through the city, but instead of one photo finish, there were many: The NCL format makes every circuit its own contest by awarding the first three riders across the line points for their teams. The pack doesn’t stop, however, and with only six riders per team allowed on the track at once, teams can make tactical, mid-race substitutions to keep their legs fresh. The Disruptors used that tactic to dominate in Miami, scoring 139 points to the second-place Nights’ 95.
The Disruptors will look to repeat as champs this month in Denver, when the league’s second race will take place on August 13 around Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. In addition to the competition, which is free for spectators (ticketed VIP sections run $200), there’ll be a tailgate party and a community ride with Denver’s newest pro team.
If the season is well-received, the NCL plans to build on the $7.5 million it’s received in startup capital from deep-pocketed investors—including NFL power agent David Mulugheta and a few of his clients, such as the Miami Dolphins’ Jalen Ramsey—to expand its season to 12 races and found more city-based teams to become a true American-style sports league. At the same time, the NCL is in a position to challenge the inequities that permeate the sport; the new league has minority-majority and female ownership and is also providing equal pay for its racially diverse male and female cyclists. “Our underlying tagline,” McCalvin says, “is to make bike racing look like America looks.”