The all-new National Cycling League (NCL) debuted with 50 furiously fast laps in the heart of Miami Beach, Florida, on Saturday, April 8.
After some three hours of racing, the Denver Disruptors, a newly formed NCL-specific team, rode off with the win.
The other NCL team, the Miami Nights, finished in second place and the collaboration team of the women's Goldmans Sachs ETFS squad and men's Texas RoadHouse Cycling p/b VQ Labs team rounded out the podium.
"It was incredible out there. What a hard event!" commented a tired but pleased Leah Kirchmann post-race. The Canadian Olympian retired from the WorldTour in 2022 but came out of retirement to join the Denver Disruptors.
"I'm so proud of the team. We really worked well together and we're just so happy to come away with the win," she said.
The NCL race format and rules
The inaugural NCL Cup is an invitational, four-race, points-based championship series unlike anything else in professional cycling today.
Much like the format for UCI World Cup cross-country mountain bike racing or even Formula One car racing, the evening before the race consists of a short qualifier to determine the starting order for the next day.
The actual races consist of a 60-lap criterium. Each lap is around one mile in length and unlike a traditional bike race, points are scored three deep each and every lap; 3 points for first place, 2 points for second and one point for third place. The final time to the line is only slightly more valuable than the previous 59 with 9 points for the lap winner, 6 points for second place and 3 points for third.
A co-ed team competition, the first 30 laps are contested by the teams' female riders. The second 30 laps make up the men's race. The same ten teams will compete at every race and have an equal number of male and female riders. For some of the competing teams, this means they've had to partner up with a team of the opposite gender to field a co-ed cohort to take on the NCL Cup.
While the men's and women's field race separately, the points are aggregated. The team's points are a combination of both the men's and women's races and the team with the most points at the end of the evening wins the bike race.
Also unique to the NCL race format is the fact that teams can substitute riders throughout the race up until the final five laps. In the pit, riders can sit out a lap or two and recover before rejoining the fray. It can take up to 2 hours of all-out-racing to complete 25 laps and thus, the pit becomes an important tactical move.
Up for grabs at the end of the series, is the largest prize purse in the history of American criterium racing. The individual event prizes, overall series awards and competition bonuses make up a total prize purse of more than $1 million USD.
How the race was won
On Friday, April 7, the Miami Beach Invitational qualifier took place in the form of a virtual race on RGT. Each team selected a rider to best represent the team and their hopes for a good starting position the next day. This rider then completed a virtual time trial of the course on a Wahoo Kickr stationary trainer.
Team Roxo Racing // Voler Factory Racing won the qualifIer, thereby netting themselves the prime, front row, starting position. Due to the long, rectangular course, the Miami Beach Invitational was decreased to 50 laps rather than 60, and all eyes were on the women's field as they were the first to make sense of this all-new racing format. As they rolled from the line in nearly 90-degree Miami heat, it was clear that the two NCL teams who were the ones best prepared.
Lap after lap, the Denver Disruptors and Miami Nights dominated. Some early crashes saw the pits fill with mechanical needs but soon, the pits were used to sub in those with the freshest legs. In a race where points were sprinted for every two-and-a-half minutes, the pace was high and the riders were going all out.
Kirchmann, a former WorldTour racer and one of the most experienced riders in the peloton, single-handedly scored nearly a third of her team's points as she sprinted to the line. While she later revealed that her team made clever use of the substitutions, she herself remained in, without rest, for the full 25 laps.
"We did quite a few substitutions, and that played into our hands tactically. We had a few times where we substituted a rider and they were able to take points the next lap. I think it's a really great addition to the race. It adds a new dynamic," she said.
While some riders tried to go up the road, the pace was simply too fast for a breakaway to stick. And towards the end of the women's race, when attrition was really starting to show, the Denver Disruptors, led by the WorldTour experience of Kirchmann and Italian Valentina Scandolara, ran off with the points, finishing with 69 points over Miami Night's 53 points and CCB - Alpine Carbon p/b Levine Law Group's 16 points. While the last lap winner from CCB posted up and celebrated as she came across the line, the end of the women's race was mere intermission, no winner was declared and points carried over into the men's field.
"I hope we inspired [our male teammates]. We set the bar really high but I know they're super strong and it's been fun training with them," said Kirchmann in between the two races. "We're just helping each other and inspiring each other."
The men's race, held on the same course for the same number of laps as the women's race, was full gas from the gun. Fast and furious, one rider overcooked a turn and caused a crash in the very first lap. Five laps into the 25-lap race, half the peloton had already been lost to the pace, getting pulled by officials as the lead group screamed around the rectangle course at 30 miles per hour.
The pace simply never let up and riders could only find recovery by subbing themselves in the pits. As the men's race unfolded, the Disruptors, building on the points lead built by their women teammates, took control, winning one sprint after sprint.
With 138 points, the Denver team won the inaugural race with a comfortable 45-point lead over the Miami Nights in second with 93 points and the Goldmans Sachs ETFS // Texas RoadHouse Cycling p/b VQ Labs team in third with 32 points.
The NCL Cup continues on August 13 in Denver, Colo.
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- The National Cycling League announces a $1 Million dollar prize purse
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- Why American cycling needs a new Greg Lemond or - whisper it - Lance Armstrong
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