Riding is Life


Riders race at the 2023 NCL Cup round in Denver, Colorado.

NCL lays off more than half its riders

Riders were informed in a mass video call.

The men’s peloton at the NCL Cup race in Denver. Photo: SnowyMountain Photography

Dane Cash
by Dane Cash 12.09.2023 Photography by
Courtesy NCL
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The National Cycling League (NCL) isn’t yet dead, but it sure isn’t thriving. 

At least 20 riders across the Denver Disruptors and the Miami Nights – the two league-owned teams that competed in the criterium series – had their contracts terminated on Monday, a cut of approximately two thirds of the total roster lineup on the two teams.

The mass layoff was confirmed by multiple NCL riders and staff contacted by Escape Collective, all of whom declined to comment on the record due to non-disclosure agreements that remain in place. A representative of the NCL declined to comment when contacted by Escape.

Although the inaugural NCL season has concluded, riders were signed through December 31 of this year. But sources told Escape that the riders laid off on Monday will not be paid for the remainder of the year. According to one team source, riders were notified of the news in a mass video call. In return for signing non-disclosure agreements and returning all of their team-issued equipment, laid-off riders were reportedly offered the opportunity to buy equity in the company.

Those who continue to be contracted with either of the two teams may yet be retained for another season of racing with the NCL, but it is unclear what changes the NCL might make, including whether both teams will continue to exist next year.

The audacious NCL project launched with celebrity backing and a million-dollar prize purse, promising livable salaries and equal setups for both men and women. Founded by entrepreneur Paris Wallace and NFL agent David Mulugheta and funded by a roster of professional athletes from major-league American sports, the NCL set itself a goal no lower than reviving American domestic racing, leaning on criterium-style events with a unique and unusual team-scoring format.

The NCL created both the Denver Disruptors and Miami Nights as part of its launch, and the teams raced not only NCL events against independent teams, but also a slate of unaffiliated events on the domestic scene. The NCL series itself progressed in fits and starts throughout 2023. The four races originally scheduled became just three, though they were at least fun to watch.

Throughout the season there was a steady stream of reports pointing to upheaval behind the scenes. The NCL fired its race organization partner, the venerable Medalist Sports, which previously ran races like the Tour of California. It also shuffled senior executives, eventually landing on current CEO Andrea Pagnanelli. Most recently, the league just weeks ago announced a second investment round, including from NBA star Kevin Durant.

Now, with its three 2023 races in the books, the organization has apparently decided to make major cuts to the rosters of both NCL-owned squads, putting the future of those teams in doubt.

Despite that dramatic reduction, it does appear that the NCL is continuing to plan for another racing season in 2024. At this year’s Denver race in mid-August, NCL brass told Escape Collective that management was planning with an eye towards the 2025 season. As of September, however, few details have been released for what next year’s series might entail.

Caley Fretz contributed reporting to this story.

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