Cycling WeeklyCycling Weekly
nothing in the pro ranks,and you know it. Next year will be the last onyour contract, and if something doesn’tchange, it will be your last as a professionalcyclist. You will be 25 years old, you will havesacrificed every other possibility in your life,and you will have nothing, absolutely nothingto show for it. You will have no job, noskills, no friends, no family, and you willhave the one thing you love dearly pulledaway from you. Your dream will be lost,and so will you.But you noticed something during youryear as a professional. Many of the riderswho you were better than at training camp,and had always been better than as anamateur, seemed to do just fine, winningand placing in many events. You knowfrom the team’s testing that your VO2 maxis higher, and that your talent level should be better as well, so why have you strug-gled so much when they have not?Looking for an answer you ask, somequestions among the older pros. Theylaugh, and say, “Achh,it will get betterwith time.”and there’s a big article about youin your local paper. You have madepeople proud. From now on,everyone who doubted you whenyou quit school will see whatyou’re capable of. Every face will be smiling and there’ll be hand-shakes all around. For once youfeel like your dream is comingtrue and your hard work andlove for the sport will pay off.As you start to race, younotice how much faster theseraces are than anything you encoun-tered as an amateur. You struggle, you getdropped, you fail to finish. Despite all yourhard training and talent, for some reason you just can’t keep up. You not only can’t win, youare barely able to keep up with the peloton.Not discouraged, you train harder, and focusmore, but this seems to work against you, asthe number and intensity of pro races wearsyou down. You try different training, differentvitamins, going to doctors to see if some-thing is wrong, anything to get youout of being at the back of every race. At the end of the season, youhave done
FORMER US POSTAL PRO
Jonathan Vaughters explains how the pressureson young riders can make even the biggest idealists turn to doping
What would you do?
’M sure every
readerhas an opinion on doping. It is thetopic that overshadows everything intop level cycling these days. Dopingstories get precedence over who’swinning and who’s losing, and latelythey have become the 800lb gorilla of thecycling world. Everyone has been sucked inand everyone has their opinion.Recently, I started reading some of theseopinions online, and found that they rangedfrom “they should be allowed to dopefreely and happily” to “doping should bepunishable by death”. Everyone fromethicist Dr Norman Fost to PresidentGeorge W. Bush has weighed in on the topic.While all these opinions and solutionsare very interesting and valid, I often wonderwhat these people would do if placed in therole of a professional cyclist. If they had towalk a mile in the cleats of their favouritepro rider, what would their decisions andopinions be? I’m sure the most commonreaction to this is: “I would do exactly as Iwould otherwise, and being a pro cyclistwould have no impact on my moral fibre.”But is that really what you would do?So, instead of writing about my opinionsof doping, how it can be solved, and whatevils it has done, I’m going to write aboutthe life of a cyclist and let you decide.
A RIDER’S LIFE
The career of a professional cyclist does not begin at the age of 23 or 24 when they firstsign that vaunted contract with a top classpro team. It begins at the age of 16 or 17,when decisions they make begin to affect the rest of their lives. Say youare a 17-year-old cyclist full of hope andvigour for the sport. You’ve won a nationalchampionship by now, and have shown atalent for winning two-wheeled races. Manypeople have noticed your talent, and becauseof this, you get offered a spot on the nationalteam trip to Europe. It will be in the spring soyou’ll have to miss some school, but it’sworth it and you decide to go. All winter youforgo hanging out with your friends and being involved with other teenage activities,instead focusing on your training and barelygetting by in school.Sure enough, all of this pays off. Thespring trip to Europe goes well and you finda spot on an amateur team in Europe becauseof your results. You know this meansforgoing university, but this is your onlychance and you must make the most of it.Again, with hard work and disciplineyour talent begins to show through as youenter your early 20s. You’ve missed all thenormal things a young man your age might be doing, you don’t have training in any-thing but pedalling, but you are living yourdream, and a professional contract is not toofar away. You love the sport, it is everythingto you. You live, breathe and eat for the bike.Your passion, your ability and your trainingkeep you winning races and loving the battle. This is without a doubt what youwant to do with your life. You have movedaway from your home, you have lost manyof your friends, and you have pushedeverything else away in your life, but someday you want to ride the Tour de France,some day you want to be a true pro.
BIG TIME BECKONS
Of course, this eventually happens. At theage of 23 you get signed by a top professionalteam and begin your life all over again. Atthis point you’ve spent 10 years of yourlife devoted to the bike, each year becoming better than the last. Eachyear you’re more focused, andeach year cycling takes more of your life. You have lived forcycling for 10 years, butfinally the sacrifice of everything else has paidoff. You are going toenter the big time.You are going to bea pro.Your motheris delighted
Jonathan Vaughters /
At a crossroads: young pros can go in either direction