Bike Pure's Andy Layhe on promoting clean sport

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Bike Pure’s Andy Layhe on promoting clean sport

Not-for-profit organisation launches inaugural development racing team in Britain

Delivering a sport to be proud of is a shared aim in cycling at the moment, and restoring a battered reputation seem to be among the buzz phrases within the UCI.

But as former British Cycling president Brian Cookson continues his clean-up of cycling’s governing body, there are other organisations who have been working towards such goals for a long time – not least Bike Pure.

The not-for-profit organisation was set up by Andy Layhe and Myles McCorry in Australia in 2008, after the doping scandals which tarnished the 2007 Tour de France, and their initiative has since grown to a global scale, with world and Olympic champion, Marianne Vos among their ambassadors. This week they launched their first development team in the UK: Team Bike Pure–LeMond-Aspire Velotech.

Team Bike Pure-LeMond-Aspire Velotech, who will carry the organisation’s logo on their kit having been launched this week (pic: Huw Fairclough)

But while the fairly simple concept of promoting an honest sport has caught on in a big way, Layhe told RCUK he never imagined Bike Pure would become so big.

“We never had a plan or agenda,” he said. “We just got our heads down to help promote ethical sport. As a result, it’s become more popular than I ever imagined.

“We had always been passionate about worthy winners, real champions, and the need for all riders regardless of abilities to be true sportsmen.

“We had the initial idea during the 2007 Tour which was littered with doping controversy. Vinokourov and his Astana team were ejected from the race, Rasmussen also removed due to his whereabouts issues and there were several other positives – Mayo, Moreni and Sinkewitz.

[2007] was all very depressing for the sport. So we set in motion an idea to promote the positives of the sport – pardon the pun! – and stand up for it

“It was all very depressing for the sport, then the news broke that the German TV channels ZDF and ARD were to drop their coverage of the Tour due to the scandals.

“So we set in motion an idea to promote the positives of the sport – pardon the pun! – and stand up for it, celebrate it if you like.”

Given the ever-growing popularity of Bike Pure, it is perhaps surprising to learn the organisation is still a labour of love for Layhe.

But with a passion many like-minded cycling fans – and more generally sports fans – will attest to, his love of the sport and his desire to see its reputation rebuilt has driven him to balance work and family commitments with his role at Bike Pure.

Andy Layhe, co-founder of Bike Pure, pictured alongside Greg LeMond who is among the organisation’s high-profile supporters (pic: Gerry McManus)

“To this day I still have a ‘normal’ career outside Bike Pure. It’s not at a point where we can be employed full time, it’s not about the money and we simply don’t raise enough revenue for me do be in that position,” he explained.

“Of course it would be more beneficial to devote my full day to the cause. It’s certainly stressful at times, juggling family life, another job and trying to train on the bike and race. But at the end of the day it’s my passion and as long as I feel that young riders are benefitting and learning that sporting ethics are important then that’s what drives me.

“Having two young kids who love sport only reiterates my passion and their understanding that sporting ethics and sportsmanship is important.

“I guess I still face the same obstacles as we first encountered with juggling many aspects of life but we have great support from individuals across the world who also share the same drive and passion and they help Bike Pure as much as their own time and commitment allows.”

The drive for a drug-free sport is certainly not a new concept although it has certainly been heightened by the Lance Armstrong scandal which dealt such a huge blow to the sport in 2012.

Of course Armstrong, perhaps ironically, found fame outside of the sport through Livestrong and in particular their yellow wristbands – whereas Bike Pure are spreading the word using blue bands of their own.

It is unsurprising that the disgraced American’s name is never far from discussions like these – but Andy believes there is a flip side to the scandal, a unifying factor for cyclists.

He explains: “A major turning point for me personally was being invited to sit on the panel at the Change Cycling Now conference in London organised by Jaimie Fuller of SKINS.

Bike Pure hope to educate their riders not only on issues of doping but also on promoting a fair sport (pic: Huw Fairclough)

“To sit in a room with many influential people really hit home how far we’d come. There was a moment minutes prior to the press conference where Jaimie lined us all up: Emma O’Reilly, David Walsh, Paul Kimmage, Greg LeMond, Christophe Bassons and Mike Ashenden to name a few.

“Jaimie made a rousing speech and it was emotional to say the least. All these people had been personally affected by speaking out about doping, some had even endured threats from Lance Armstrong.

“Moments like those bring people together, a desire for ethics, a desire to do the right things and those emotions are what Bike Pure is about. The pursuit for sporting integrity is a just and worthwhile cause, cycling fans deserve it after being let down on relentless occasions.”

However, there is a world of difference between simply saying ‘do not dope’ and actually working towards the delivery of a drug-free sport – which is where Bike Pure has come into its own.

Moments like those bring people together, a desire for ethics, a desire to do the right things and those emotions are what Bike Pure is about

By placing an emphasis on the education of young riders, Bike Pure hopes to eradicate problems at grassroots level and promote a greater ethos to the sport as a whole rather than just cutting out doping.

Layhe said: “A fundamental part of our ethos is promoting sporting ethics, educating how riders and young riders especially can learn how to be role models.

“From a simple gesture of being the first to congratulate an opponent if you lose a race or respecting officials and the rules that make up sport say far more about a rider and their makeup than anything.

“Promoting sporting ethics and becoming a sincere role model is a very powerful symbol for any athlete regardless of which sport they participate in. In an age where everything is analysed, it is very important.

Marianne Vos’ is among Bike Pure’s most high-profile supporters, with her blue wristband visible on her right arm as she celebrated World Championship success last year (pic: Sirotti)

“We receive many emails from coaches, riders and teams all over the world asking how they can show their support and spread the message.

“Coaches are a great way to help increase awareness as they have direct access to riders. Coaches, riders and those who purchase items from our store all receive literature on sporting ethics and awareness and the effects of doping.

“When we’re at events we hand out literature and free wristbands.”

And more than half a decade on from the scandal-hit 2007 Tour, the sport is certainly in a much better place than it was – with the likes of Team Sky’s  zero tolerance policy bringing a renewed and more positive publicity.

Layhe added: “I think it’s easy to be negative about the sport of cycling, regards doping, but look at the advances it has taken on an anti-doping level compared to other sports.

“We as cyclists should all be proud of this beautiful sport that we participate in so a main focus for us is to also celebrate the sport. Yes it’s had countless positive tests but if cyclists are tested more than any other athlete then the chances of catching those who cheat is greater.

“I often look through the athlete stats on the USADA website, it’s very informative and tells you the number of times athletes have been tested.

“A quick look at the total number of tests conducted during 2013 in cycling and tennis draws attention to the gulf between different sports. Cycling’s total is 780 tests on 318 athletes, tennis has a total of 39 tests on just 9 athletes.

Brian Cookson, pictured at the Tour Down Under, has made rapid progress towards fulfilling his manifesto promises – which Andy is fully supportive of (pic: Sirotti)

“We would like to see the major teams doing more to provide transparency on certain issues, including internal testing procedures, frequency and results. It’s become too easy for a team to call themselves a ‘clean team’ – all teams should be clean teams.

“These said teams are reported to be at the forefront of new methods of training and procedures, but we’d like to see more evidence produced to alleviate any concerns the cycling public have and not leave performances open to scrutiny.

“It should be the teams’ best interest to do so and also the sports best interests.”

Layhe has not been content simply to talk the talk.  The formation of Bike Pure’s new development team will allow them to practice what they preach.

It’s become too easy for a team to call themselves a ‘clean team’ – all teams should be clean teams

“We’re very excited about our new development team Bike Pure – LeMond – Aspire Velotech,” he said. “It’s been tough putting it all together and without the support of our UK based main man Karl Neilsen then it would never have got off the ground.

“It’s a two-year plan and we’re very excited to have some great young riders on board who will be competing at national level. The focus isn’t solely about success or winning but establishing a system whereby the young riders can become sound and responsible athletes, setting a foundation for their future.

“The team is funded by the sale of items on our online store, so I guess it’s our members team. Every item sold on our store goes to funding the riders and help them get noticed riding in Bike Pure kit.

“The process of setting up any team and finding sponsors, or investors as we prefer to call them, is always a tough job but rewarding nonetheless.

Andy was invited to the Change Cycling Now conference, alongside the likes of Greg LeMond and Paul Kimmage (pictured) (pic: Gerry McManus)

“Yet however tough, it’s rewarding that we are in a position to put such a project in place. It’s not big budget but we can hopefully establish a great following for the riders and get more people and investors involved for 2015.”

Now, with cycling entering a new phase in its history with change afoot at the highest level – change which Andy is keen to see continue as Brian Cookson continues to fulfil his manifesto promises – Bike Pure are keen to expand too.

As with almost every aspect of cycling, funding is an issue – with literature packs and shipping costs among their chief expenses without any grants to cover the expenditure.

However, plans remain afoot to promote Bike Pure items at bike shops, and continue to support an honest sport – with Andy’s passion for his labour of love showing no signs of slowing.

And it is this, perhaps, which makes the story all the more remarkable.

Rewind seven years, and observers may have laughed in the faces of those who sought a clean sport.

Yet on a limited budget, Bike Pure has played a significant part in the promotion of a clean, honest sport. Over to you, Mr Cookson.

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For more information on Bike Pure visit bikepure.org.

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