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National bicycle league for men and women to roll through Colorado

National bicycle league for men and women to roll through Colorado


By John Renfrow

Colorado Community Media (Via AP Storyshare)

Can’t get enough professional sports teams in Colorado? Good. The National Cycling League has you covered. It’s bringing an exciting, free professional bicycle race to the Front Range next month.

The NCL Cup, a series, is in its first year, and composed of 10 cycling teams composed of men and women — including the league-leading Denver Disruptors. They compete in three races across the country for one NCL Cup champion to be crowned this fall. The first event in Miami in April rallied nearly 20,000 spectators. The league is hopeful for similar numbers as cyclists race a course around the Colorado Rapids’ soccer stadium at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City on Aug 13.

“It’s the world’s first majority-minority and female-owned sports league,” said Reed McCalvin, the vice president of teams and operations for the NCL. “The four founders, and then myself, a founder with a very little ‘f,’ basically wanted to help change the face of sports and equality in sports.”

The founders include successful executives, tech company veterans, NFL agents, lawyers, and more, with high-profile investors in professional sports, such as the NBA’s Bradley Beal and the NFL’s Jalen Ramsey and Derwin James.

They all have the same goal: to bring cycling to the next level on a new, even playing field. The races are not multi-day, grueling races with mountain passes somewhere along the way like the Tour de France and ones closer to home from years past, including the Colorado Classic and USA Pro Challenge.

The NCL is criterium-style racing, meaning they’re fast-paced as cyclists ride on a set race course, doing laps to gain points along the way. The women and men compete in different competition groups for the same team, so each side brings equal weight to the scoreboard.

A new, even playing field

And, the NCL is set up in a way that allows men and women on the teams chances to contribute to the score. Some teams, such as the Denver Disruptors, have a full team of both men and women. Other teams that do not have both women’s and men’s divisions may merge with another women’s/men’s team for the purposes of competing in the NCL Cup Series.

For example, the Goldman Sachs ETFS Racing women’s team and Texas Roadhouse Cycling Team men’s team combined, and they’re currently sitting in third place.

“The National Cycling League is setting a new standard for inclusivity in professional sports by championing diversity. I was drawn to the opportunity to impact and transform communities through our mission,” said CEO Andrea Pagnanelli. “With more than 50 million cyclists in the U.S., we have an opportunity to grow the passion and excitement for the sport of cycling among the next generation of fans.”

But perhaps the experience and cohesion of the Disrupters is what has them so ahead of the pack. Currently the team is in first place with a score of 139. The Miami Nights are in second sitting at 95.

“Everybody has a mother, daughter, girlfriend, cousin, niece, what have you, that wants to see them equally represented and paid well. Sport is the great equalizer. One of our underlying taglines is ‘Make bike racing look like America looks,’” McCalvin said.

There are nearly 30 different nations represented in the participating teams, and several of the riders are former Olympic and world-renowned athletes.

Why Denver?

After a year of diligent research, which included meeting advisors from a plethora of other professional sports leagues and studying cycling in America, Denver emerged as a prime candidate for an NCL hub not only to host a local team but to hold events in the future.

“Colorado is just a cycling state,” McCalvin said. “Denver makes it consistently in the top 10 cities. We had a 49-row wide Excel spreadsheet of different reasons, including socioeconomics, number of people that bike, what the city spends on infrastructure around bikes, all that stuff. Denver was in the top 10 in nearly every category.”

Noah Granigan is one of the Denver Disruptors, as has been a part of the Colorado cycling community since he attended CU Boulder in 2014, where he was a member of the college’s cycling team.

As a fourth-generation international-level cyclist, Granigan has cycling in his blood. He now lives in Superior and said Colorado is the perfect place for cyclists.

“Colorado is such a great place to be a cyclist in terms of training roads, weather, and the massive cycling community so I ended up just staying in the area after I graduated,” Granigan said. “Colorado has become my new home so it’s pretty cool to now be on a Denver-based team.

“Denver is such a strong cycling community because it’s simply a great place to be a cyclist,” Granigan added. “That’s why there are so many professional cyclists that come from or move to Colorado. The road cycling is world-class, and then you have such incredible mountain biking, gravel, bike parks, and bike friendly cities like Denver on top of that.”

The ‘Ford vs. Ferrari’ model

Just because Denver is a great hub for cycling doesn’t mean the team was guaranteed success. In fact, McCalvin said there was some experimenting in bringing together the NCL, and he followed a popular movie’s method for finding and creating the best teams.

“One of the things I came up with was this ‘Ford vs. Ferrari’ concept,” McCalvin said. “It started with a blank slate. So we have a Miami team that I made more ‘Ferrari’, where it was a bunch of existing criterium racers in America and some track racers. And with Denver, we went with more long endurance road racers and former Tour de France riders and some track racers as well. This was like our beta test for our first year. We’re just trying to see what works.”

So far, Ford is crushing Ferrari, and endurance-based riding is dominating.

“It didn’t take long for our team to really start to understand, read, and communicate with each other mid-race,” Granigan said. “With riders from all over the world, all with their own strengths and styles, we were quick to take all of that and create a really strong unit, which we demonstrated in the Miami Beach cup in the first race of the year.”

Development of the future

The experimentation is still ongoing, McCalvin said. The three events this year are all in different formats. The Miami event was held on Ocean Drive. The Denver event is held at a professional sports facility. The Atlanta event will be more private and VIP-based.

“We’re trying to figure out what the model is in relation to keeping it community-based and getting the local families and community involved. I want your aunt to go and have a good time. Not just you because you enjoy cycling,” McCalvin said.

But McCalvin knows the future of all sports is in broadcasting. The NCL events are all broadcast on the GCN+, the Global Cycling Network streaming service. It’s all about expanding the league’s reach and getting new fans invested and interested in the sport.

“We’re very excited about being at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park,” McCalvin said. “A big part of what we’re doing is development of the future. It’s one of our pillars. It’s the best thing in the community.”

At the Aug. 13 event, there will be free junior racing, free mountain bike crit racing for kids, and a community ride for fans of all ages.

In fact, everything involving the event is free: the parking, the tickets, the community-based activities involved, and watching the pro race. The only thing interested fans will need to purchase is food and souvenirs, unless they want VIP tickets, which can be purchased on www.nclracing.com.

“Now we’re the cycling team in Denver and Colorado, and that’s important to us,” McCalvin said. “I remember when the Mammoth first started, and I remember when the Rapids first started. It didn’t quite happen all at once. It started semi-small-ish, and it’s grown into a [significant] fanbase and community staple.”

For more information on the NCL and the Denver Disruptors, visit the team’s website at www.nclracing.com/teams/0/denver-disruptors.

“Paint your faces, bring your flags, and come out and support!” McCalvin said.

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