Let me set my stall out from the start: I don’t believe former dopers have any place in the management or training of current professionals.
Be it Eric Zabel, Bjarne Riis, Matt White or any other former pro that has either admitted to doping or been outed post-career, their presence within the firmament of the top tiers of the sport is, I believe, sending the wrong message to the current crop of professionals and, even more damaging, to the ranks of amateurs aspiring to turn professional.
And then we have Jonathan Vaughters, the former professional rider-turned-impressario who ran the Slipstream team that in 2009 entered the ProTour ranks, founded on a platform that advocated a drug-free approach to cycling at the highest level.
Vaughters’ men stood out in an era that many felt – correctly, it emerged – was riven by illegal substance abuse.
They were lauded for their honest and ethical approach to the sport, and drew in sponsors and fans alike on the back of their pledge to ride clean.
And yet not was all as it seemed. Not even close. In August 2012 Vaughters admitted to doping in a New York Times article, though only after rumors were circulating through the cycling world that he was to be outed for the very act he so bravely admitted to.
“I chose to lie over killing my dream,” he wrote in The Times article. “I chose to dope. I am sorry for that decision, and I deeply regret it.”
He then went on to claim that, well, everyone else was at it, so what was there to do? You were either on the bus, it seemed, or not.
Interestingly, Vaughters’ advice to those who have doped is the first thing they must do it to apologise to the fans, exactly as he did – years after the fact, when that apology means absolutely zero to anyone.
Here is a former doper who funded and set up a team based on a clean riding policy that was stacked with – you guessed it – former dopers.
David Millar was the most famous, having returned from a ban to become the media’s go-to-guy on all matters doping.
But it later emerged, thanks to the Lance Armstrong case, that there were other dopers in the Vaughters’ stable, men who many assumed were clean as whistles.
Christian Vande Velde, Dave Zabriskie and Tom Danielson were all exposed as dopers too.
Add to that the reinstatement at the highest level of another doper, Thomas Dekker, and you may see a pattern emerging.
Vaughters started this team not by admitting his doping past nor by stating that any of his riders had doped, but by parading them as a clean team, full of clean riders trying to change the sport.
Would he have secured the sponsorship needed to fund a top pro team had he admitted even his own past?
Think about that for a moment, all those of you who will say that at least he was trying to change things: Vaughters would not even have come close to having his own team had he admitted his past. Not even close.
That is the problem I have with Jonathan Vaughters.
The whole thing has been a fraud and a sham from the get go. What nobility can come from that beginning? What morality?
And now, as if this was just what the sport needed, we have the revelations by Danish rider Michael Rasmussen, infamous for leaving of the 2007 Tour de France while wearing Yellow after it was revealed he lied about his whereabouts for a doping test, about Ryder Hesjedal.
Rasmussen claims in his new book he taught 2012 Giro d’Italia winner Hesjedal – whose win by many, me included, was lauded as a victory for clean riding – how to inject EPO.
Rasmussen had three Canadian mountain bikers staying at his house in 2003 – Seamus McGrath, Chris Sheppard and Ryder Hesjedal.
He writes in his book the three “had seen the light: A good result in the World Cup (2003) would send them to the Olympics in Athens in 2004.
“They moved into my basement in August,” writes Rasmussen, “before I went to the Vuelta a España, and after I had ridden the Championship of Zurich.
“They stayed for a fortnight. I trained with them in the Dolomites and taught them how to do vitamin injections and how to take EPO and Synacthen.”
Hesjedal’s response? You guessed it, an apology.
“I have loved and lived this sport but more than a decade ago, I chose the wrong path,” said Hesjedal, echoing Zabriskie’s and Vaughter’s statements in an eerie fashion.
“Even though those mistakes happened more than 10 years ago, and they were short-lived, it does not change the fact that I made them and I have lived with that and been sorry for it ever since.”
Phew, that’s a relief! He’s sorry about it.
Vaughters’ attitude to ex-dopers is a clear one – that they should be forgiven and allowed back into the sport in the hope that they have learnt from their mistakes and thus can improve the sport.
That’s a very convenient outlook to have, because it corresponds precisely to his own situation.
If he had never doped, do you think he’d have the same view? No, I doubt it.
Others who were pros and never doped tend to want the ex-dopers out, forever.
Vaughters is a product of his environment and he is twisting this way and that to justify his own existence and his place in the sport – and packing his team with ‘ex’-dopers in the meantime.
Is Hesjedal the tipping point for JV? Just how many guys on your roster can be exposed long after the fact to be dopers before you get red carded? Three? Four? Five?
Yet another sad indictment on the prevailing attitudes within the sport.
If Brian Cookson wants to do something truly positive, he should turf Jonathan Vaughters out of the sport, once and for all.
this article originally appeared in The Roar
funny, in a way, that the name ‘UCI’ means so much still to so many. like ‘FIFA’ or ‘NBA’, those three little letters meant, for many of us who grew up with a passion for the sport, a stamp of authority, a measure of goodness and a sign of quality. attaching ‘UCI’ to ‘World Championships’ meant that the thing really mattered. it was real. it was glorious.
sure, the UCI was a bureaucracy, it connoted the shuffling of documents and filing cabinets and sausage-like, pink-skinned fat white men on the wrong side of the middle of their years in bi-focals with receding hairlines and ill-fitting cheap suits and sensible shoes and probably a few too many slaps on the backsides of young female secretaries, but it still felt good. it used the rainbow colors right there in its badge, linking itself very firmly to the kind of honest (or so we thought) endeavor and good ol’ hard work that defined our world champions.
sound a little naive? probably was, but through great swathes of the 80s and even the 90s the sport seemed like most others, there were crooks and cheats here and there but on the whole it was a healthy pursuit, governed by an association that might have been getting fat along the way but that essentially was taking care of this sport beloved by so many.
the truth was that Hein and his cohorts were building an shark-toothed behemoth on the squalid practises of the past, one that overlooked the culture of rampant doping at a time when the new dope on the block was killing otherwise supremely healthy and starry-eyed youngsters in their sleep. the UCI wanted the megabucks and they needed a star system and by golly they got it by both hook and by crook, fueled by EPO in a way that Hollywood has always been fueled by coke, staffed by Supermen and Terminators that were doing stuff up pretty high hills that now seem more akin to acts committed by criminals than sporting achievements.
yet still… it’s the UCI!
yes, there may be some bad apples but the thing surely, inherently, is good?
no. not now anyways. and yet still, when Vaudevillian Vaughters trotted out in his Little Boy Blue oh-so-finery and his feathered locks and began very strongly suggesting a breakaway league, my blood just got up. it bubbled. i could hear it a-cracklin’ behind my ears.
why? well, because:
first off, i don’t think he should be in the sport.
second, if that preppy-boy-my-momma-dressed-me style of his is really style, i’m starting a dirty protest.
third, he and the rest of his dirty generation milked that system for so long and did fine by it, without a doubt, so complaining now seems all a bit suspect. he gets control? no thanks.
fourth, we all love these races, we love the history, keep the Monuments, keep the Grand Tours, keep it all and stuff the rest.
fifth…. it’s the UCI! surely we can rescue it? surely the bad apples (all of them) will go? they can’t hang on anymore!
the more indignation i felt with every mention of ‘breakaway’, the more flustered and blustery i got, the more i dragged the feathers from my mouth, the more i realised it was pointless. there is NOTHING to be gained from the UCI any longer. it’s a derelict building teetering on a cliff edge. there’s mold in the walls and termites the size of Jack Russels rampaging through the timbers. there are individuals still inside refusing to budge, but like those mad sad folk who refuse to leave their houses as the volcano behind them roars into fiery life, they are nothing but depressing examples of the unfathomable potential for pointlessness that humans from time to time offer up to the sighing universe.
so today when i read that David Brailsford was saying that cycling has reached its ‘tipping point‘, i realised that for the first time since i’ve read anything about a breakaway from the UCI, i agreed – this is indeed absolutely necessary.
keep the Classics. keep the Grand Tours (though the Vuelta is increasingly looking like the injured wildebeest at the edge of the pack). keep the mini-classics, the Strade Bianche, Omloop, the Worlds. maybe, sure, create one or two more classics in Asia such as the Japan Cup, on great roads, tough arse routes with lots of spectators.
but yeah. rip it up.
crankpunk’s always believed in giving a fella the benefit of the doubt, always felt that ‘innocent til proven guilty’ was a pretty decent rule of thumb and that every man or woman suspected of something should have the opportunity to answer their accusers. that’s been, after all, the stated basis of most of our legal systems since the modern age began (however corrupted the system may, in some cases, actually be). i also believe wholeheartedly the concept of redemption. if convicted of a crime, a man who’s served his time should be given a second chance.