Betty Hasse, a cyclist and student at the University of Rhode Island, was organizing a racing event at her school when she got the call about three weeks ago.
Lauren LeClaire, director of the CCB-Alpine Carbon women’s team, was looking for someone to replace a rider who suffered a concussion, for the inaugural National Cycling League race on Saturday.
“She was like ‘Um, so Miami, right?’ And I was like ‘Miami!’ And here we are,” said Hasse, who won five races for the team last year, including a third-place finish at the USA Cycling Pro Road National Championship in June.
Hasse, 20, will be one of the first competitors to participate in the National Cycling League’s first race on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach.
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The new sports league hopes to grab the attention of cycling fans with co-ed teams and a unique racing format more compelling than a five-hour race with a sprint finish. There will be four American races, and a $1 million prize purse distributed to teams based on performance.
“Our goal is really to grow cycling and bike racing across the globe, with a new format that really appeals to the next generation of fans,” NCL co-founder Paris Wallace said before the first race.
“We are not European cycling. We are really inventing what that means in America. And it’s faster, it’s grittier. It’s, you know, a different rule set that we think is really going to complement what’s been happening traditionally in European cycling.”
What will a NCL race be like?
Women and men will race separately for their teams, and their combined scores make up the final total for race day – unlike a traditional race where the first person who crosses the finish line wins.
The race will last roughly an hour-and-a-half to two hours in time, intended to captivate diehard cycling enthusiasts as well as younger audiences with shorter attention spans.
“You have these super interesting and spectator-friendly, exciting, fast races that are just tight, and there’s so much action built into a little segment of space,” Hasse said. “It’s just super crazy and so fun to be in that different space. It’s not like a long form, old-style road race.”
Where will the NCL races be?
After the Miami race Saturday, the NCL will race in Atlanta on May 14, Denver on Aug. 13 and in Washington, where riders will race on Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Washington Monument, on Sept. 17.
Wallace said at least a dozen cities around the world have reached out about bringing the format to their city.
“Short, fast, interesting races in the most iconic blocks in the biggest cities around the country – and eventually around the world,” Wallace said. “It’s fast and furious and exciting, and really built for that, that next generation that needs to hit every, you know, 60 seconds.”
How can you watch NCL races?
The NCL has a broadcasting deal with Discovery and the Global Cycling Network (GCN) to showcase the race both domestically and internationally.
Another way the NCL hopes to connect with fans is through a partnership with Wahoo Fitness, which allows fans to race along in the metaverse on their smart trainers at home.
Teams will qualify or determine their order for race day by having a male and female representative compete in a 1-mile loop on a Wahoo Kickr stationary bike.
“We’re calling it the 4G fan experience, and we think this is really going to revolutionize and grow incredibly quickly like a pickleball or lacrosse,” Wallace said.
How did the NCL begin?
Wallace, an entrepreneur who founded two health technology companies, picked up an interest in cycling as a COVID-19 transplant, moving from Boston to Miami during the pandemic.
Along with co-founder David Mulugheta, one of the most prominent agents for NFL players as president of team sports at Athletes First, and venture investors Will Ventures, Founder Collective, Collab Capital, Impellent Ventures, the NCL secured a $7.5 million seed last December.
The NCL also prides itself on being the first sports league to have men and women equally participating, to be completely founded by minorities, and where minority and female team owners are the majority.
“How many bike riders (are) out there with no team to cheer for, right? All of us have played basketball growing up, we want to be like Michael Jordan or LeBron James,” Mulugheta said. “So, creating a sport (league) where now these people that grow up as bike riders are having heroes to look at was super important to us.”
NCL has some famous NFL ties, too
Four of Mulugheta’s football clients are also investors: Miami Dolphins cornerback Jalen Ramsey, Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James, Atlanta Falcons cornerback Casey Hayward and Tennessee Titans safety Kevin Byard.
The NCL gives them an opportunity to experience the ownership level of a sport, instead of being an employee or endorser. And the price range to get into the mix is considerably less than buying into a franchise in a major sport.
“Historically we as minorities have not had the opportunity to become owners, and it’s so late in the game that it is just cost prohibitive for most people,” Mulugheta said. “So, getting in on something like this from the ground floor, I think is for some guys the only opportunity to have that chance, and I think these guys have taken full advantage of that.”
Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal and FOX Sports personality Emmanuel Acho are also investors.
What do riders and team owners hope to get from NCL?
The opportunity to compete and gain exposure.
LeClaire, who considers herself an owner and a coach with CCB-Alpine Carbon after 10 years as a rider, views her organization as a developmental team. She encourages her riders, most of whom are still in college, to pursue their education while providing assistance for their racing aspirations. Three of LeClaire’s former riders from last year are now riding with the NCL’s Denver team this year.
“Obviously, the goal is that these women who are extremely talented are able to be a full-time professional cyclist, and have that be their day job. And you know, right now in the U.S., I think the NCL is giving us a look at what that could look like,” LeClaire said.
“If things like the NCL continue to move the sport forward, like we hope it’s going to, then there’s going to be more jobs and more spots for them to land. So that they are able to make a professional living wage in the U.S. without having to race for a European team and do it here at home.”
What is the NCL banking on?
Cycling fans and the sport’s popularity around the world.
The 2022 Tour de France reached 37 million viewers in Europe with more than 400 million hours viewed, the most since 2015, according to Endurance.Biz.
In America on USA Network, 510,000 viewers watched the Tour De France on July 14, the most since 2010, and 554,000 viewers tuned in on July 15, the most since 2009, according to Comcast and NBCUniversal.
The figures domestically and abroad give the NCL hope its product has the potential to grow.
“Our goal is to become a global sport,” Wallace said. “We want to be not an alternative, but complementary to the people watching professional cycling races across the globe every year.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is the National Cycling League? Everything you need to know