“The ribs around the lungs” – why Bike Pure is so much more than just wristbands and spacers

World Champion Rui Costa wears one. So does Nico Roche. They’ve been seen on the wrists of Jonathan Vaughters, Cameron Mayer and Russell Downing. They are the distinctive blue Bike Pure wristband that signifies an individual’s commitment to “protect the integrity of cycling and promote clean cyclesport. Cycling fans worldwide deserve heroes they can believe in. Supporters want a clean sport and the professional riders need their credibility back.”

But Bike Pure is more than a wristband – it’s now the sponsor of a development cycling team, in partnership with Greg Lemond no less,  whose principal goal “isn’t simply about success but in providing a solid platform for its riders to understand the value of sporting values.” The 6 talented junior women riders will also participate in substance education and personal substance recording devised by team manager Karl Nielsen.

I’ll freely admit I was a cynic about the efficacy of Bike Pure before I had the opportunity to sit down with founder Andy Layhe some time ago and find out whether there was more to Bike Pure than wristbands and head spacers. Andy told me of the hours he spent putting together educational packs to send around the world to youth cycling groups – the advocacy was voluntary and over and above the day job. Since then his kitchen table project has grown into one of the most high profile anti doping pressure groups in the world.

I caught up with Andy recently to ask about MPCC wristbands, the new cycling team and that very public spat with Chris Froome.

Why did you start Bike Pure? 

We just felt there was a lot of negative publicity about the sport in regards to doping. There was no major opposition group or a platform where riders and fans could celebrate the sport and voice their support for anti-doping and ethics. We did and still care about the sport and couldn’t face to see it’s reputation being destroyed by a few individuals who had their mindset on cheating others out of honest victories. Bike Pure was a simple idea, a simple ethos, why wouldn’t people support something positive. We’ve moved on a lot from those early days though. I’d say we were a little naive in places but we’ve learnt from our mistakes I hope and are seen as being an influential part of the sport now.

We continue to have a close alliance with many cycling fans around the world and that’s really important to us. We’re very lucky to receive support from cycling fans in so many countries and it’s really touched us. I think that part of our success has been that independence, that we’re simply cycling fans ourselves and that we form a big voice, that’s really very important in sport. Sport brings people together, it’s a marriage of a shared passion.

What were your goals and have they changed over the years? Our simple goal initially was to promote ethical sport, which we still do. We never really had a plan or agenda, it was simply about getting our heads down to try and induce some positive measures into the sport. Our very first proposals were were four year bans and life bans for repeat offenders. I’m delighted we’re close to the four year ban now, I really hope that we had a part to play in this area in bringing about it’s inception. We also championed for a removal of all syringes (other than medical use) and this has also been implemented. There is a long way to go though and we fundamentally feel that the education of athletes, most importantly young athletes, as to the importance of being honest in sport is paramount. We are focussing on this area, trying to ensure the new generations of riders don’t have to make the same decisions others made before them.

For a long time you were best known for selling wristbands and spacers that were seen as something of a joke – do you think that perception is changing?

I’ve never heard them called a joke, they are just a simple means of one being able to show support for ethical sport. If we can raise much needed funds by offering these items then all well and good. It’s rewarding to see riders of all abilities wearing our wristband and only makes me feel humbled when I see such. To have seen both Marianne Vos and Rui Costa winning the world championships last year shows that the sport is changing. Whether I see a rider of 10 years old or so, or a current world champion wearing our wristband – it’s the same feeling for me, I’m happy they have the same passion for honest sport, that’s very important.

How do you feel about MPCC bringing out their own blue wristband? Do you work with them at all – you have similar goals, after all?

We support any anti-doping group but it’s a very disappointing to copy our wristband so evidently. They are hoping to capitalise on our own brand and success by marketing a copy cat product. Why not produce a white wristband? For an organisation that has the word ‘credible’ in it’s title, I find it quite amusing, as do many others who have emailed me to vent their frustration. Their slogan was ‘Doping, that’s enough’. Again very amusing. I was in touch with Roger Legeay to tell him I was disappointed that they copied our branding. They have big funding – something we don’t have but our drive and passion is strong and sustained. I think cycling fans look down the list of teams aligned with the MPCC and see many teams where there is deep doping history. I’ll leave it up to the cycling fans to decide if they support the MPCC or not.

I didn’t really understand what Bike Pure was about until I had the opportunity to ask you about it and hear you talk about the educational work you do. You spoke with great enthusiasm and had obviously made a huge personal commitment to the project – have things changed since then or are you still a one man band?

We’re a four man band now, a bit like the Beatles! Haha, no, we’re working hard to try and increase funding that will ensure we can sustain our message. I have a ‘normal’ career other than Bike Pure, but my hours allow me to commit 3-4 hours per day plus keep up to date on social media for as long as my eyes stay open. Karl Neilsen has been fantastic in the UK side of things and we have small network of people, all volunteers, who help out. It’s not easy at times but I hopefully see a day where we can go into schools, youth groups and sustain some sort of funding that ensures we can educate more, do talks and push our message to a wider audience. We have plans to produce a Bike Pure bike son that will hopefully bring in some much needed funds.

Our UK Development team called Bike Pure – LeMond – Aspire Velotech launched recently. We’re funding 6 of the UK’s brightest young juniors on their cycling journey. It’s a new and exciting venture for us and Karl will manage the team side. Our new group of enthusiastic girls are great role models themselves and that’s an important part of the set up. We’ll be promoting ethical sport at the events they are riding and it’s a real celebration of cycling. Having the backing of the two main sponsors along with Bike Science, The Sufferfest, Lazer Helmets and Sukkie Hydration is fantastic and they’ve all been paramount in this formation.

The cycling team project is a really exciting one – how did the partnership with Greg Lemond come about?

I was at the Play The Game conference in Coventry back in June 2009. Coventry was my home town so I was excited about seeing Greg LeMond speak there. Greg was my childhood hero whilst I grew up on the bike. I was waiting for Greg to finish some press commitments when Kathy LeMond spotted the Bike Pure logo on my shirt. We got chatting and she said her and Greg were big fans of what we were trying to achieve. It all went on from there really. They invited me to meet up with them in Cork the following month at the Get Back Challenge charity ride and we hit it off I guess. Greg’s been a big supporter and was keen to become involved with the new team. I’m so pleased for them as a family, they were affected very personally by Armstrong during his era, so I’m pleased it’s all turned round for them and that we see LeMond bikes back on the roads. I see Greg as a friend now, not the guy I cheered at on my TV in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

You got a lot of criticism for removing Chris Froome from your website after he failed to submit data you’d requested – is it fair to say that you scapegoated him or that it was a cynical ‘look at me’ exercise? There’s been a lot of misconception about Chris and Bike Pure. He wasn’t removed from our database for not providing data, but for not wanting to commit to our organisation. I held out an olive branch for Chris several months before (mid to late 2012 and early 2013), asking for confirmation on his alignment to Bike Pure. Many people were asking questions of his performances so all I wanted was confirmation, a simple yes or no.

At the same time, shortly after Armstrong appeared on Oprah, I felt that whoever was going to be challenging for the next Tour de France was going to be in for a torrid time with the press there. Chris was favourite so I emailed them to see if Chris would be willing to do something no other Tour de France contender would do, and that was to publish data and be more transparent. It wasn’t a threat or order, a simple way of getting Chris or Team Sky to do something different, to stand out from other teams. Sky have a reputation for being advanced, so why not be more advanced and don’t give people reason to doubt you. I was really concerned about the way the press would react to Chris’ performances, I really felt that his team could have done more prior to the Tour. It wasn’t a them and us scenario, although I did get that impression of the team, I pleaded with Fran Millar to think about what was going to happen off the back of Armstrong. It was never about doping but simply about putting something in place that would deflect the press and the questions Chris would receive from the media. I’m quite bruised by it all really, even today, as I simply wanted to help, but I guess it back fired in some people’s eyes. Then to receive a wrathful phone call from Michelle Cound, Chris’ girlfriend just a few days before the Tour was very upsetting. But in the end, the media forced SKY’s hand by having them release data, data which was never made public.

What’s next for Bike Pure?

We keep at it, we’re building and building. It’s pleasing to see many people at races and also young riders supporting Bike Pure. There’s a huge passion for honest sport and also a passion to stand up for cycling, a sport we all love dearly. Testing in cycling has come a long way compared to other sports and that’s something we should all celebrate. Ideally I’d like to work full time on Bike Pure but until such a time we receive funding or investors then I’ll just keep going. We have bigger plans and if I don’t burn out before that I really see those plans coming to fruition. I see Bike Pure as the ribs around the lungs of the sport, trying hard to protect it.

We have new leadership at the UCI, much needed leadership, and it’s looking brighter there. To have Brian there and also Tracey Gaudrey is a bonus for all. I recently spoke to Tracey and she is a beacon for the sport, a great lady who has great ideas and vision.

We’re also busy compiling an ‘ethical sporting bible’ where we hope to put our visions down on paper with a document aimed at coaches, parents, riders and those involved in the sport. It’s hard work but we’ve some great input from some great people and I’m looking forward to its publication sometime this year.

Whether you’re a cynic or not about the whole ‘anti doping’ movement in cycling, there’s no denying Layhe’s passion and belief that Bike Pure is a project worth doing. Its rising profile in cycling’s landscape says that he’s right. It’s a true cynic indeed who says that the sport can continue to ignore it’s tarnished image and take everything at face value. By targeting the education of young riders, maybe Layhe has had a credible solution to the problem all along – the sport can’t change its past but it can change its future.

And maybe one day he’ll be able to give up the day job.

To find out more about Bike Pure: bikepure.org/

To order your free wristband: www.bikepurestore.org/bike-pure-wristbands/official-bike-pure-wristbands.html

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