Jonathan Vaughters admits doping past, but insists he is fighting for a clean future for cycling
Garmin-Sharp boss comes clean but says antidoping efforts mean today's young riders aren't faced with same choice he had
Jonathan Vaughters, team manager of Garmin-Sharp and chief executive of its management company Slipstream Sports, has publicly admitted for the first time that he doped during his racing career.
In an opinion column headed ‘How to Get Doping Out of Sports’ that was published in Sunday’s New York Times, Vaughters, who rode for teams including US Postal Service and Credit Agricole during his career, spoke of his regret at having used drugs.
He also underlined his commitment to the fight against doping, with Slipstream Sports founded in 2007 with a strong anti-doping stance including an internal testing programme of its own riders.
Vaughters, aged 39, began his article with the stark statement: “Why does an athlete dope? I know why, because I faced that choice.”
He went on to outline how he chased the dream he had held since his teenage years in Colorado of becoming a pro cyclist, and of the determination and dedication anyone with their sights on a top-level career in sport needs.
“Then,” he added, “just short of finally living your childhood dream, you are told, either straight out or implicitly, by some coaches, mentors, even the boss, that you aren’t going to make it, unless you cheat. Unless you choose to dope.”
Hard work, talent and determination takes an athlete 98 per cent of the way towards achieving their ambitions, said Vaughters; doping, he adds, may provide the missing 2 per cent.
Vaughters left the reader in no doubt that he regrets his own decision to dope. It’s one of the reasons he says he gave up being a pro cyclist and switched to team management to provide an environment “where that choice was taken out of the equation through rigorous testing and a cultural shift that emphasized racing clean above winning. The choice for my athletes was eliminated.”
Most followers of professional cycling would agree the sport is cleaner now than it was when Vaughters was racing in the years either side of the turn of the Millennium.
It may be no coincidence that his column appears at a time when the legacy of the man who during that period epitomised the sport to their fellow Americans, Lance Armstrong, is being reassessed due to the ongoing proceedings brought against him by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
But, Vaughters argued, today’s aspriring athletes do not face the same stark choice as previous generations did, including his, due to the efforts of antidoping campaigners.
“When I was racing in the 1990s and early 2000s, the rules were easily circumvented by any and all – and if you wanted to be competitive, you first had to keep up. This environment is what we must continuously work to prevent from ever surfacing again. It destroys dreams. It destroys people. It destroys our finest athletes.
“As I watched the Olympics these past two weeks, I was a bit envious, as I know that huge strides have been made by many since my time to rid sports of doping. Athletes have the knowledge and confidence that nowadays, the race can be won clean.”
While he maintained that “antidoping enforcement is 1,000 percent better than in my era of competition, and that brings me great satisfaction,” Vaughters cautioned that “we must support these efforts even more.”
He concludesd: “Almost every athlete I’ve met who has doped will say they did it only because they wanted a level playing field. That says something: everyone wants a fair chance, not more. So, let’s give our young athletes a level playing field, without doping.
“Let’s put our effort and resources into making sport fair, so that no athlete faces this decision ever again. We put so much emotion into marketing and idolizing athletes, let’s put that same zeal into giving them what they really want: the ability to live their dreams without compromising their morals.”
By going public on his own doping, Vaughters has no doubt opened himself up to charges of hypocrisy from some quarters, although he has previously hinted at having a past that he is less than proud of, and that what happened before Slipstream Sports was founded is to be regarded as a clean break with anything that might have happened before.
During last month’s Tour de France, Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported that Vaughters, along with several former US Postal riders including Garmin-Sharp’s David Zabriskie and Christian Vande Velde, had been given six-month sentences by USADA to begin later this year in return for admissions of doping and testimony related to its investigation of Armstrong and others.
Vaughters denied that he or any of his riders had been given any such suspension, although the team stopped short of denying that any of the individuals concerned had spoken to USADA.
The timing of his decision to come clean about his past will however be viewed by some as evidence that Vaughters, who started the 1999 Tour alongside Armstrong in the year the Texan took the first of his seven victories, may well be one of those who has provided evidence to USADA.