Bike Pure – seeking to repair “a damaged sport”

Co-founder Myles McCorry tells Road.cc how Bike Pure aims to help win the war against the drug cheats

by Simon_MacMichael   August 7, 2009  

Since its launch last autumn, Bike Pure has become an online phenomenon in the cycling world. The non-profit website, founded by cycling fans and ex-racers Myles McCorry and Andy Layhe, seeks to promote clean riders and pave the way to a drugs-free future for cycling, and has quickly grown to almost 14,000 members, uniting fans, riders, professional teams, component manufacturers and governing bodies alike in an attempt to restore health to what its founders describe as “a damaged sport”.

The immediate impetus behind Bike Pure was 2008’s positive tests of certain riders during the Tour de France, although McCorry’s disillusionment with doping goes back much further – the first year he followed the entire race live was 1998, the year of the Festina affair.

“Bike Pure is about trying to give the clean riders a voice”, says McCorry. “It only takes one doper to drown out the voice of all the clean riders. We don’t want to focus on the doping, which is unusual for an anti-doping organization; instead we’re looking to concentrate on the clean riders. Yes, we admit there’s a problem, but rather than just complain about it, we want to try and get everyone to focus on a solution”.

Bike Pure has members in more than 70 countries, including 200 full-time cyclists, comprising seasoned professionals like Barloworld’s Robbie Hunter and emerging riders such as AG2R’s Nicolas Roche and Britain’s Lizzie Armistead, winner of the young rider classification in the Giro Donne earlier this month.

Affiliated teams include South Africa’s Konica Minolta and Swedish team Magnus Maximus Coffee, backed by Magnus Backstedt. While none of the heavyweight ProTour teams have yet signed up, McCorry singles out Cervélo TestTeam and Garmin Slipstream as being particularly supportive, although both leave it to individual riders to decide whether to pledge their allegiance to Bike Pure.

McCorry acknowledges, however, that reaction at the sport’s highest levels has been mixed, with Quick Step, for example, making it impossible to get close to the riders or team staff. While this closed-doors approach initially annoyed him, McCorry says he now takes it in his stride, viewing it as part of the sport’s problem.

Code of the Pure

Professional riders and teams signing up to Bike Pure must adhere to its honour code, pledging to do their best to win using only their talent and hard effort, never use performance enhancing drugs or knowingly bring the sport into disrepute, and agree that drug cheats should be banned for life.

Additionally, riders who have previously used performance enhancing drugs must acknowledge the damage their actions have caused, and apologise to fans and other cyclists for having cheated.

Bike Pure’s growth has surprised its founders. “It started out as just the two of us”, explains McCorry, “but quickly mushroomed – we now have a lot of co-ordinators around the world who help keep the information out there”, including volunteers in the US, Australia and Malaysia.

While Bike Pure currently has an English-speaking bias, McCorry wants to expand the campaign into countries such as Belgium, Spain and Italy, saying that since the Continent is where most races are held, those countries are obvious targets for its message.

“The Silence Lotto rider, Olivier Kaisen, will work with us over the winter”, says McCorry, “he’s passionate about Bike Pure and a great spokesperson for us. He’s fluent in Flemish, Dutch and French and he and his girlfriend” – Ludivine Henrion, the former Belgian female road race champion – “are going to help us launch the French and Flemish side of the site. And we’re trying to work with a Spanish cycling magazine to see if they can help us there”.

Cycle Sport 2.0

Bike Pure provides ways for members to show their support; they can buy wristbands and headset spacers, both in Bike Pure’s signature blue, jerseys, or a front cap for Italian manufacturer 3T’s RTX stems. “We’re trying to give everyone the same feeling”, says McCorry, “so if a professional cyclist wears our wristband or the headset spacer to show he’s for the future of cycling, then an amateur can wear it too”.

Taking its cue from the online world, where the concept of Web 2.0 – essentially, the evolution of the internet from information source to an interactive experience encompassing social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and user-generated content such as blogs – has emerged, Bike Pure is now working on what it terms Cycle Sport 2.0, heralded as “a blueprint for the future”.

Under Cycle Sport 2.0, Bike Pure invites members to put forward ideas for taking the sport forward, not only in terms of promoting clean riders and a positive image for cycling, but also in trying to reach an end solution.

Those proposals will form the basis of a submission to the UCI, cycling’s governing body, the World Anti-Doping Agency, professional teams, race organisers and national cycling federations, with the final document delivered at the end of the 2009 season.

McCorry says Cycle Sport 2.0 allows Bike Pure’s supporters to make their voices heard in the drugs debate and wider issues facing cycling. While all Bike Pure members have an opportunity to help shape the final document, extra weight will be attached to proposals from professional riders, doctors and others at the heart of the sport, simply because of their greater experience of the issues involved.

“We want it to be completely open”, says McCorry. “Anyone commenting has a box that they can tick at the end that says, ‘Do you want to be involved in the final correlation of the document?’ We’ll set out all of the proposals on the site and hopefully get members to send their proposals in if they feel strongly about anything”.

The financial cost of doping

Previous doping scandals have not just hit cycling’s credibility, but have also had a financial impact as sponsors of teams whose riders have tested positive have pulled out due to the resulting negative publicity. And with corporate marketing and sponsorship budgets under increasing pressure because of the recession, cycling can ill afford further drugs allegations.

“On the money side of it you only have to look at past cases”, says McCorry, citing the examples of Stefan Schumacher, winner of both individual time trials in last year’s Tour de France, who was revealed last October to have tested positive for CERA in a blood sample taken during the event, and Floyd Landis, the disgraced winner of the race in 2006.

“German cycling was on the edge after the Ullrich affair”, explains McCorry, then Schumacher was responsible for two full ProTour teams leaving the sport, losing their sponsorship and losing it early, which was €40 million taken out of cycling and the loss of jobs not only for cyclists but also the backroom staff. Look at Landis, he lost the Phonak contract, and that was €12 million a year taken out of the sport.

"The dopers are making a financial gain, Landis is back racing with Team OUCH, and lots of people say that it’s great to see him, but I actually don’t, I think with the damage that each of these riders do to the sport, a lifetime ban is the only way out”.

McCorry is also worried that Mikel Astarloza's post-Tour positive test will have the same effect on Spanish cycling as Schumacher did in Germany.

Working for a drug-free future

But McCorry stresses that past events should not obscure Bike Pure’s central aim, which is to take the sport forward into a drug-free future. “We don’t want to stand and point the finger”, he claims.

“One thing that we have not done on the site, which a lot of people who have joined wanted to do, is name and shame all the riders up who have doped”, he says. “Our ethos is actually to ban them, forget them and move on and focus on the clean riders. It’s the same with the organisation of the sport, if there’s something that’s not working within that, to try and fix it so we can get around it rather than concentrate on it”.

Bike Pure acknowledges, however, that young riders are not immune to the pressures of doping, highlighted by Thomas Dekker’s suspension by Silence Lotto from this year’s Tour de France days before it got under way in Monaco after revelations that previously undetectable traces of EPO had been discovered in a re-test of a blood sample originally given in December 2007, when the Dutch rider, then with Rabobank, was aged 23.

The UCI has pointed to Dekker’s positive retroactive test as proof that its biological passport scheme, introduced in January 2008, is working. But the inherent danger of retroactive testing for previously undetectable substances is that with each discovery of a positive re-test, cycling risks becoming further discredited as winners of events that have taken place months or even years in the past are exposed as cheats.

While this year’s Tour de France has thankfully been drug-free to date, fresh revelations in the ongoing trial in Austria of Bernhard Kohl, stripped of the 2008 King of the Mountains title, and last week’s break-up of a doping ring in Italy, allegedly led by former Serbian national coach Alexandar Nikacevic, show that drugs remain a threat to the sport’s integrity and that focusing on individual riders testing positive does not address the root cause of the problem.

“I would say even a year ago we said that it was just the riders who were at fault”, says McCorry. “But if you look at the drugs ring broken in Italy last week, it’s fantastic, because the breakdown shows just what’s wrong with the sport. An ex-coach is the alleged ringleader, but of the 30 people arrested, 12 are current professional cyclists, three are cycling team managers, four are cycling doctors and four are pharmaceutical company executives, so that’s everyone from the manufacturer of the drugs right through to the finish line. That’s where the problem is within cycling, it’s not just the riders”.

Accordingly, McCorry believes it’s not just riders who should be punished: “We would push for anyone involved in management who are spoiling the sport and the hopes and dreams of young riders to get a lifetime ban”.

Of course, many people maintain that since drug abuse has been present since cyling’s earliest days, it’s every much a part of the sport as, say, the professional foul is in football.

McCorry accepts that this holds true for the past, but argues that cycling is changing. “For 20 years that has been the exact truth and it has been part of cycling. You only have to look back to some of the Tours in the early 1990s, when you’d get an 80-kilo rider leaving a 56-kilo rider behind on a climb”.

“So that was the past, but I do believe it’s not the future”, he continues. “I totally trust Bradley Wiggins and when you see him in the top ten in the Tour de France it’s just a joy for me, it shows that the playing field has cleaned up. When he finished the stage into Andorra, red-faced and with bloodshot eyes, he looked like we look at the end of a club race. They’re just on a higher level but I do think that the new generation are mostly clean”.

According to McCorry, Bike Pure is essentially “a bunch of cyclists just working for cycling”, its strength lying in “the number of members we have around the world and the voice that a group this size has. We’re just trying to use them in a positive message to help cycling”. However, his ultimate goal is to see Bike Pure help ensure a cleaner sport for the future and thereby “work our way out of existence in the next few years”.
It’s a commendable aim, and unique in seeking to make the opinions of ordinary bike riders and fans heard within the wider debate over cycling’s future. 

But whether Bike Pure can truly get its message across and make its members’ voices heard at the highest levels, given the Byzantine politics of the professional cycling scene, with governing bodies, race organisers and drug testing agencies at odds with one another, remains to be seen. We wish them well.