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Jonathan Vaughters: The Smartest Take On Doping In Cycling I’ve Seen

December 7, 2012

Jonathan Vaughters unburdens himself to ESPN Magazine, and gives a fascinating explanation of how the moral, practical and competitive considerations made cycling a completely doped sport. Example:

“My first two years racing [1994 and 1995], I raced clean and there was no testing whatsoever for [the blood-boosting hormone] EPO in Europe. I would be barely hanging on the back of the peloton, finishing 130th. You were stuck sitting on someone’s wheel just praying the race would slow down at some point. Then I’d come back to race in the U.S. and win — it was amazing the difference when it was all 180 guys on EPO in those European races. The race is just faster and faster and faster because everyone always has the energy for a counterattack.

“It’s against the law of nature in the pack that the guy spending 30 percent more energy pulling in the wind for kilometers on end for his team leader can suddenly somehow still hang in there for third or 13th place. The race is just faster and faster and faster because everyone always has the energy for a counterattack. Fleche Wallonne in 1994 [when riders from the same team finished 1-2-3] was the seminal moment, when it went from individuals to team-based doping. So you had an en masse decision, with doctors and managers and riders saying, OK, gig’s up; we’ve gotta do this. And the attitude among the riders was: This is medication given to me by the team doctor. He told me I need to take it.

“With EPO in the 1990s, that was the first time in the history of sport where you had a totally undetectable drug that definitively gave a performance gain to everyone, and there wasn’t a downside. By 1996, in big races like the Tour de France, I think doping was very close to 100 percent prevalent.

Vaughters who is now part-owner, and manager of a racing team, also believes in a Truth And Reconciliation approach to getting the whole story out. It’s well worth reading his whole interview.

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