Earlier this year Garmin-Sharp’s David Millar gave us his warts-and-all account of the road travelled by a talented athlete to admitted doper in his book, Racing Through the Dark: The fall and rise of David Millar.
It was an excellent read, not only for the doping angle but in detailing what it takes to be a professional cyclist.
“My epiphany came in that police cell: I realised I was about to lose everything and it didn't bother me, not in the slightest. I'd come to hate cycling because I blamed it for the lie I was living.”
Millar, now reformed and firmly back in everyone’s good books, sadly remains an exception not the rule in cycling, but that may be about to change. Maybe.
This weekend, In The New York Times, Millar’s boss, Jonathan Vaughters, opened up on the road he travelled from motivated young cyclist to admitted doper.
“Then, 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,” he wrote. “Doping can be that last two per cent. It would keep your dream alive, at least in the eyes of those who couldn’t see your heart. However, you’d have to lie. Lie to your mother, your friends, your fans. Lie to the world. This has been the harsh reality laid out before many of the most talented, hardest working and biggest dreaming athletes.”
Vaughters has danced around the question for some time, but here we have another on-record admission from someone who is at the centre of world cycling, not just an ex-rider but someone who commands a team and is active in framing the direction of the sport.
Still, apart from a motherhood statement and redoubling our efforts in testing, Vaughters only tells us why we should try to stamp out doping, he doesn’t tell us why he chose this moment to come clean.
“The answer is not to teach young athletes that giving up lifelong dreams is better than giving in to cheating. The answer is to never give them the option. The only way to eliminate this choice is to put our greatest efforts into anti-doping enforcement.”
Asking us to think of the children and comradely exhortations to redouble our efforts have been around for a couple of decades. Riders still dope despite an increasingly comprehensive testing system, and ex-dopers like Vaughters still populate the upper echelons of the sport.
Taken in isolation Vaughters’s admission is similar to that of 1996 Tour de France winner and now Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank boss, Denmark’s Bjarne Riis, but public sentiment around the Twitter watercooler appears to regard the latter more positively than the former. I don’t.
As a Tour de France winner, Riis’s confession should have been seen as more significant and a watershed, but it wasn’t, and nothing changed. Five years on, riders still dope and ex-riders are still confessing to doping.
But The New York Times opinion piece does come with some interesting timing; with the cycling world currently engrossed in the United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA) vs Lance Armstrong court battle.
The USADA vs Armstrong is a train wreck of a case in which there may be a victor declared but also where there will be no real winner.
That outcome remains in doubt but it isn’t looking good for seven-time Tour de France winner Armstrong. If you’ve been following that case with any interest you’ll have seen it get messier still with both the International Cycling Union (UCI) and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) weighing in with competing and often cynical political interests.
Vaughters was effectively a minor functionary as a rider, at the professional level he doped to keep up, not to win, unlike Riis. But it is in the context of the above ongoing case that Vaughters’s admission may be regarded as more important than that of the dour Dane, because he was a member of Armstrong’s US Postal team for two seasons (1998-1999).
“When I was racing in the 1990s and early 2000s, the rules were easily circumvented by any and all,” he continued. “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.”
So Vaughters may have intimate knowledge of any doping that may have gone on during his tenure at the team and may be assisting them with their enquiries. Was that the period in which he succumed to a harder reality? Earlier? Or later at Credit Agricole? He doesn’t tell us.
Two of Garmin-Sharp’s riders are also alleged to be at the heart of the USADA case against Lance Armstrong: David Zabriskie (US Postal 2003-2004) and Christian Vande Velde (US Postal 1998-2003). Vaughters’s admission may be seen in that context. Again he doesn’t tell us.
With the avowed anti-doping focus of Garmin-Sharp, Vaughters has probably done more than anyone to change the culture of doping in cycling, but we should wait for his next, hopefully more detailed, missive. One that contains a who, what, where, why and when. That will be significant.