Launched to great fanfare in April is the National Cycling League in trouble already?

Just one race in, the series is dropping races, changing CEOs and its race management company, and being rather quiet

Scenes from the 2023 Miami Inventional, the inaugural National Cycling League.
(Image credit: Gabriel Diaz)

Formed in 2022 and debuted in April 2023, the National Cycling League is the latest cycling series aiming to take over the U.S. domestic racing scene with promises of reigniting American fans and reinventing cycling altogether with its unique, spectator-friendly format. 

Interestingly, the NCL was dreamt up by people who don’t come from the cycling world at all. Paris Wallace is the entrepreneur behind health and technology company, Ovia Health, and David Mulugheta is a highly successful sports agent for the National Football League (NFL).

Together, Wallace and Mulugheta attracted financial backers from far and wide, including venture capitalists and by a group of big-name NBA and NFL players, some retired and some still playing.

     |Also read: The newly formed National Cycling League: a gimmick or the future of American bike racing?

This is not the first time a National Cycling League tried to reignite America’s cycling fandom. An identically named —yet unrelated—league in the 1980s had similar ambitions to bring an exciting, made-for-TV race format to the U.S. It too had NFL ties, and was a city-based series. The league never truly took off and after financial troubles it folded after five years. Will we see this successor fare better? 

The NCL kicked off the season with a big splash, announcing a four-race series and fielding two professional, 16-person co-ed racing teams to take on the series as well as the biggest races in the country. The teams attracted notable riders from around the world and have seen plenty of success. In addition to winning the first NCL race in Miami, the two teams earned wins at the Joe Martin Stage Race, Tour of America’s Dairyland the USA Speed Cup, and podiums at Tulsa Tough, the Boise Twilight Criterium and the Sunny King Criterium.

But they have had some issues, as well, and things appear to be rocky over at the League. 

It started with some of the country’s biggest teams declining an invitation to partake in the series. And while the opening round in Miami in April appeared to be a success, a second round of racing has yet to be held. 

     | Also read: The National Cycling League made its anticipated debut over the weekend, but were we entertained?

The second race was slated for Atlanta, GA, on May 14 but was delayed for unsaid reasons. An Atlanta event is now on the schedule for August 19. Instead, Denver will now play host to the second race in the NCL Cup on August 12, nearly four months after the first race in the series. 

The fourth race in the series, slated for Washington D.C., was meant to serve as the big series finale but got canceled altogether. This means that the third round in Atlanta is now the series’ final race of 2023. 

This cancellation has disrupted not just their race schedule but their prize pool as well. From the series' inception, the NCL boasted a $1 Million prize purse, including a $700,000 prize if one team could sweep all four events and a $100,000 bonus if a team won three of the four races. WIth the cancellation of its fourth race, the grand prize is no longer up for grabs, but the League confirmed that teams would still compete for the end-of-season $130,000 Cup Bonus prize, separate from the $30,000 prize purse for each race. 

“With the cancellation of the last race, the prize purse changed as the quadruple crown is no longer eligible. Teams are now competing for the triple crown since there are only three races in 2023,” a NCL representative told Cycling Weekly.

Additionally, the team that wins the overall series will receive $45,000, with the next-placed teams receiving smaller amounts. Still, without that $700,000 prize, the League's big and glamorous one-million-dollar advertised prize pool becomes significantly smaller. 

All these schedule changes occurred rather quietly, as did the recent CEO change. Wallace, who was previously listed as CEO remains the NCL's Co-founder and President but makes way for Andrea Paganelli in the organization's CEO role, per the series’ last press release. Additionally, the CMO and COO seem to have quietly left the company. 

When asked about these organizational changes, a representative of the NCL told Cycling Weekly:

“It has been a very busy and productive few months for the team. This includes preparing for our two final events. It also includes bringing in new company owners, new partners, and additional respected and proven employees in the front office.

Several difficult decisions had to be made. We decided to prioritize the foundation to ensure NCL would be a staple on the sports calendar. There were needed infrastructure changes to be prioritized to set NCL up for long-term success. Our aim is to build a sports league that delivers to our team, partners, and community in the ways we promise.”

They also assured us that the Denver and Atlanta events are a go. Additionally, the NCL is confident in a successful 2024 series, despite a change in race management companies. 

Medalist Sports, who ran the NCL Cup opener in Miami Beach, is no longer connected to the series. Medalist Sports is a well-respected and long-standing race management company that has run many world-class USA Cycling and UCI events over the last two decades. The abrupt termination comes as a surprise after what appeared to be a successful first event, and could point toward the League perhaps being in financial trouble. 

The NCL has also swapped Public Relations firms twice already this season. And finally, the third and, now, last race of the series, saw a venue change. The event will take place on Atlanta’s Porsche Experience race track. While this venue provides a hard technical course for the riders, fans must buy a $200 VIP pass to spectate the race in person. It is billed as an ‘exclusive event’ and feels very disconnected from the rest of their messaging about growing the sport for spectators and creating a more accessible spectacle of sport. 

All in all, these changes don’t inspire confidence in the NCL’s future or its lofty goals of reigniting America’s cycling fandom. But the organization remains optimistic, stating:

"As an organization, we continue to focus on the positive. Our teams have done extremely well in the 2023 American Criterium Cup series and other races. We had a successful inaugural race in Miami Beach this past April. We have two upcoming races—NCL Cup Denver and NCL Cup Atlanta—that we know will surpass expectations.”

We’ll just have to see what happens on August 12, when Denver hosts the second round of racing at the Dicks Sporting Goods Park. No VIP tickets are required for this one, and you can also catch the race on GCN+.

Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Henry Lord

Henry Lord is a Cycling Weekly Intern. He grew up in southern Maine and was introduced to mountain biking by his dad. Lord grew up racing mountain bikes and cyclocross across the East Coast as well as downhill and XC skiing. He moved out west to Durango, Colorado to start college at Fort Lewis, where in the last two years he has focused on road racing in addition to studying Communication design and marketing.