NCL – World Champion

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I am World Champion in another aspect of cycling. I’m not actually sure what it is exactly, but back in the 90’s, there was a new idea for the sport called the NCL, the National Cycling League. It was somehow structured after the NFL. It was so closely tied to the NFL that Franco Harris, Hall of Famer from the Pittsburg Steelers, was the owner of the Pittsburg NCL team. I’m not sure how many years they did the series, maybe 4???

The format was two criterium point races per day, in different cities all over the country. I was racing MTB bikes at the time and only made it to a couple of the events. But, I did go down to Miami for the “World Championships” in 1992.

I rode for a team called the Houston Outlaws. I don’t really remember everyone on the team. I know that I was riding with my ex Wheaties/Schwinn team mate, Alan McCormick and also Andy Paulin, ex Levi’s team mate. Also, I remember Joe Parkin, ex Bikes by Kyle, Philadelphia Flyers team mate.

There were lots of guys that I raced with normally in “real” races. We were all pretty much doing it for some extra money. I think we all got paid per event.

Anyway, the Houston Team had gotten 2nd the year before (I wasn’t riding with them). The race my year was in Miami. I think were were racing against teams from Portland, Pittsburg and Miami. I don’t remember a bunch of specifics from the two races. We did maybe a 30 minute points race, then 1/2 time and then another 30 minute points race. I know during the half time, Andy Paulin had an episode with his heart that was the first sign of a heart problem that he has had to deal with ever since. I was riding next to him when he said he felt weird and was bonking. He slowed, fell over and passed out. He didn’t race the 2nd race.

I know we barely won the whole thing. Alan scored a ton of points. I just marked breaks and picked up the scrap points. Our team was owned by some rich guy in Austin, I believe. Our owners were thrilled after the race. We celebrated and went out for a super nice dinner. I think you can tell by my complete recollection of the whole thing how important it was to me.

They took our rings sizes and a few weeks later we received our rings. They were huge, made at the same place they make the rings for the NFL, NBA and MLB. I compared mine to Franco’s super bowl ring and they were the same size. The reason the rings are so big is because the hands of all those guys are huge, so the rings looks silly small.

I saved all my stuff from the defunct league. I have a contract that is something like 80 pages long, but missing 15 or more pages in the middle. It was pretty much a NLF contract. I have a couple skinsuits that say Houston Outlaws and my number, 78. Maybe 100 years from now it will be worth something because cycling is so popular and this was the first attempt to bring “real professional” cycling to the US.

I did take my ring with me once up to Cable, Wisconsin, in the winter when I was skiing with Greg LeMond. I pulled it out one night and told Greg that with all the silly racing over in Europe, he never had a chance to get one of these (rings). He tossed it across the room. Enough said about that.

My World Championship ring from the 1992 NCL World Championships.

The rings are huge.

Each ring is custom with the team’s name, the rider’s name and number.

Logos from the Miami Wave and Houston Outlaws courtesy of James Brookshire’s toolbox.

14 thoughts on “NCL – World Champion

  1. Rad Renner

    You know, Steve, if you ever get in a bar fight, that ring could come in handy.

  2. Chris

    Can we get a pic of the Outlaws skinsuit? What a cool and quirky aspect of pro cycling history in the States!

  3. Bill E

    I remember talking to the league owner,
    Peter ?? , one fall (91 maybe?) about riding for Pittsburgh the following year. I recall him being pretty opinionated on how his approach to cycling was the only way it would ever take off in the US.

    Of course, it all fell apart that winter and I never got to do it.

  4. Bill Laudien

    Peter O’Neill was the owner of the league.

    And as hokey as it might have been and as cavalier as Steve is being about it, the riders did get paid, they got to travel and race, and the events were televised, which is more than you can say about most other attempted cycling ventures.

    I think it was a neat idea that just fell a little short.

  5. Bill E

    Agreed, I thought his ideas were good; he was big on the TV aspect of it, the format of two periods and a halftime to better cater to spectators attention span (and more aggressive racing) and the city franchises, for fans to feel more ownership and pride in their city’s teams. He was more businessman than cyclist, and that’s probably a good thing for the sport.

    I’m sure there are multiple reasons it didn’t sustain itself, but I did always hear good things from the riders that did it.

  6. chris

    I remember trying to watch these races on ESPN. It looked a lot like that movie “Rollerball”.

  7. shaun w

    The NCL was awesome. Much needed but also ahead-of-it’s time.
    The cycling media never gave it the credit it deserved, whereas nowadays that’s not so important for survival.
    C/W USAC the flow of money was totally reversed: the NCL found the sponsors and owners, and the money flowed down to the riders. I was on $1000/race and all expenses paid.
    Peter O’Neil was also the one who broke down the USCF’s claimed monopoly on riders. Until he stood up to them, if you did a non-federation race you’d get suspended.
    Enabling all the other organizations we have nowadays is his legacy.

  8. VC Slim

    My NCL recall snippets… Nelson Vails riding around inside the race with a camera backpack… Frank McCormack racing with a rear view mirror… A Houton NCL race with non-USCF support races that had good payouts (it conflicted with the state rr championship so not well attended)… Funky Seattle course that included a bike path… I actually enjoyed watching the series.

  9. Fabio

    Steve, that’s some good story…. It was for sure something different, and too bad it didn’t take off. I was racing then with the Miami Manatees, we go flown to couple of towns ( NYC and Chicago if I remember…. ) The idea was interesting, the racing was furious and fast…. and so hard too. Thanks for bringing that up. PS.. I never got that cool ring !!!

  10. mike s

    Thanks for the article, rode for the Seattle Cyclones in ’91 and ’92. I got my World Championship ring in ’91 riding for the Seattle Cyclones. Good memories.

  11. Joe Papp

    Wow, small world – I rode for the Pittsburgh Power. I remember going to Italy to race once during the regular season, then we went to Monaco for the World Title Race in 1994. Good stuff. I still have a couple Assos rear-zip skinsuits from them. Horner raced for LA or was it Portland? And Mike McCarthy (sp?) w/ NYC? Sarah Fulkerson owned Boston team and the McCormack (Sp?) Bros. rode for them. Everyone who was anyone was in the League back then. Good times!


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