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DRUGS SPECIAL Jonathan Vaughters

What would you do?
FORMER US POSTAL PRO Jonathan Vaughters explains how the pressures on young riders can make even the biggest idealists turn to doping
Words: Jonathan Vaughters / Picture: Phil O’Connor

I

’M sure every Cycling Weekly reader has an opinion on doping. It is the topic that overshadows everything in top level cycling these days. Doping stories get precedence over who’s winning and who’s losing, and lately they have become the 800lb gorilla of the cycling world. Everyone has been sucked in and everyone has their opinion. Recently, I started reading some of these opinions online, and found that they ranged from “they should be allowed to dope freely and happily” to “doping should be punishable by death”. Everyone from ethicist Dr Norman Fost to President George W. Bush has weighed in on the topic. While all these opinions and solutions are very interesting and valid, I often wonder what these people would do if placed in the role of a professional cyclist. If they had to walk a mile in the cleats of their favourite pro rider, what would their decisions and opinions be? I’m sure the most common reaction to this is: “I would do exactly as I would otherwise, and being a pro cyclist would have no impact on my moral fibre.” But is that really what you would do? So, instead of writing about my opinions of doping, how it can be solved, and what evils it has done, I’m going to write about the life of a cyclist and let you decide.

begin to affect the rest of their lives. Say you are a 17-year-old cyclist full of hope and vigour for the sport. You’ve won a national championship by now, and have shown a talent for winning two-wheeled races. Many people have noticed your talent, and because of this, you get offered a spot on the national team trip to Europe. It will be in the spring so you’ll have to miss some school, but it’s worth it and you decide to go. All winter you forgo hanging out with your friends and being involved with other teenage activities, instead focusing on your training and barely getting by in school. Sure enough, all of this pays off. The spring trip to Europe goes well and you find a spot on an amateur team in Europe because of your results. You know this means forgoing university, but this is your only chance and you must make the most of it. Again, with hard work and discipline your talent begins to show through as you enter your early 20s. You’ve missed all the normal things a young man your age might be doing, you don’t have training in anything but pedalling, but you are living your dream, and a professional contract is not too far away. You love the sport, it is everything to you. You live, breathe and eat for the bike. Your passion, your ability and your training keep you winning races and loving the battle. This is without a doubt what you want to do with your life. You have moved away from your home, you have lost many of your friends, and you have pushed everything else away in your life, but some day you want to ride the Tour de France, some day you want to be a true pro.

and there’s a big article about you in your local paper. You have made people proud. From now on, everyone who doubted you when you quit school will see what you’re capable of. Every face will be smiling and there’ll be handshakes all around. For once you feel like your dream is coming true and your hard work and love for the sport will pay off. As you start to race, you notice how much faster these races are than anything you encountered as an amateur. You struggle, you get dropped, you fail to finish. Despite all your hard training and talent, for some reason you just can’t keep up. You not only can’t win, you are barely able to keep up with the peloton. Not discouraged, you train harder, and focus more, but this seems to work against you, as the number and intensity of pro races wears you down. You try different training, different vitamins, going to doctors to see if something is wrong, anything to get you out of being at the back of every race. At the end of the season, you have done

BIG TIME BECKONS

A RIDER’S LIFE

The career of a professional cyclist does not begin at the age of 23 or 24 when they first sign that vaunted contract with a top class pro team. It begins at the age of 16 or 17, when decisions they make

Of course, this eventually happens. At the age of 23 you get signed by a top professional team and begin your life all over again. At this point you’ve spent 10 years of your life devoted to the bike, each year becoming better than the last. Each year you’re more focused, and each year cycling takes more of your life. You have lived for cycling for 10 years, but finally the sacrifice of everything else has paid off. You are going to enter the big time. You are going to be a pro. Your mother is delighted

nothing in the pro ranks, and you know it. Next year will be the last on your contract, and if something doesn’t change, it will be your last as a professional cyclist. You will be 25 years old, you will have sacrificed every other possibility in your life, and you will have nothing, absolutely nothing to show for it. You will have no job, no skills, no friends, no family, and you will have the one thing you love dearly pulled away from you. Your dream will be lost, and so will you. But you noticed something during your year as a professional. Many of the riders who you were better than at training camp, and had always been better than as an amateur, seemed to do just fine, winning and placing in many events. You know from the team’s testing that your VO2 max is higher, and that your talent level should be better as well, so why have you struggled so much when they have not? Looking for an answer you ask, some questions among the older pros. They laugh, and say, “Achh, it will get better with time.”

At a crossroads: young pros can go in either direction

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Cycling Weekly

Cycling Weekly 32

DRUGS SPECIAL Jonathan Vaughters

Having heard so much about doping, you wonder if maybe this has something to do with it. With a little research you find that red cell mass increases are directly proportional to VO2 and anaerobic threshold power increases. That would mean that if you increased your haematocrit from 42 per cent to 48 per cent you would increase your power by 12 per cent. This difference would not only get you off the back of the peloton, it might even vault you to winning, just like you did in your amateur days. The difference a 12 per cent power increase would make at the top level is incredible. It’s the difference between first and 50th. No one, no matter how talented, could possibly win against others who were doing such a thing. Could this really be why you were so good all through your youth and amateur days, but have struggled so hard in the pro ranks?

GETTING THE JOB DONE

You talk to some others in a more plain tone, and indeed it seems you are not the only one to have thought this out. There are big contracts to be had, and big money to be won. You must do what you have to do in order to get the job done. This seems to be the attitude in the world around you. But the thought of doping terrifies you. It goes against everything your mother taught you and what you believe in. It is wrong and you know it. You could never live with yourself if you knew you had cheated. And what if you tested positive? The world would push you aside and deny you. You would never be able to look up again. You now have a choice to make for your last year on your contract. Do you stick to your moral beliefs? Do you stay whole as a person? But if you choose to remain clean, your dream of being a pro, of riding the Tour de France will soon be over. You know that you will not get another contract if you continue like this. Your dream will end. Your 10 years of sacrifice will end in shame. You will have failed. Or do you choose to ‘get the job done’? Lose your soul, but keep your job. Keep your dream, but know it is false.

doing so is losing your job, losing your dream, and losing everything you have in your life. What do you do? What decision do you make? Say your career moves on, and you have some wins, some successes. You get married, buy a house, have children. Now you must support them, and you have no other skill. What do you do now? Perhaps you have sponsors paying you millions of dollars, and they want results. They don’t pressure you overtly, but you feel them breathing down your neck. You know you are worthless to them and to your fans if you don’t produce. You have built your life on being a winner and having the winning spirit. Your ego, your being, your person are all tied in so tightly with winning when your fans wish it. You can’t let them down. You can’t let your dear old mum down. You need to win for God, queen and country. The hopes of millions depend on your inspiration. You can’t disappoint them, it would be tragic. Their hero would have fallen. Now, what do you do? Open your mind, open your heart and think of what you as a human would do in this situation. Think about it and be honest in your evaluation. Would you be a bad, evil person if you chose to dope? Would you be a failure if you didn’t? How would you survive if you chose to walk away? How would you reconcile the loss of your dream? How would you justify doping? How would you justify failing? What would you really do? Really.

changes the outcome of a competitive event, no matter who has trained harder or is more disciplined. That is sad, and the results of any race are compromised and false. To argue that if everyone is doping and using the same dope, then it’s fair, is bunk. Different drugs affect different metabolisms in different ways and some people will always benefit more from certain drugs than others. This is why doping must end, or we will not get to see who is truly the best.

NOBODY’S EVIL

SAD SITUATION

LOSS OF INNOCENCE

You ask more questions and find that in small amounts most of these modern doping methods are hard to detect and have very few health consequences when monitored by a doctor. Or so they think, or so you’ve been told. But it seems the true consequence of choosing to dope is the loss of your integrity and the loss of your innocence. The consequence of not
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This article might seem to some of you a justification for doping. It is not. Absolutely not. Doping is sad, especially blood doping/EPO, because it is very effective in endurance sports. It is even sadder when you consider that its effects are uneven among different people. Imagine if two riders were of equal natural ability, but rider A had a natural haematocrit of 38 per cent and rider B had a natural haematocrit of 48 per cent. In a world of cycling tainted with blood doping or EPO, the rider with a 38 per cent haematocrit can become much better by boosting his red cell count to 49 per cent and therefore increasing his power by a theoretical 20 per cent. Rider B receives almost no benefit from blood doping or EPO as he is naturally very close to the limit of 50 per cent, and is now completely non-competitive with rider A. This is a sobering demonstration of how the same drug taken by two different people has totally different effects, and completely

This intention of this article is to show that dopers are not evil. They should be held accountable for their actions but not blamed and ruined. They are human, and they are just like you. The only way to change this sad reality is to continue with new testing and stricter policies. Pointing fingers, blaming individuals and spreading rumours goes nowhere and leads to nothing. The science of testing must catch up, and the rules must be tightened. If you truly want to prevent your local hero from being in the situation this article presents, donate some

money to the World AntiDoping Agency, and write a letter to the Union Cycliste Internationale. This will help anyone from ever having to make the horrible choice I just wrote about. Hopefully, when time and money have been invested in this topic and people are more knowledgeable about it, the next generation of champions will not have to deal with such situations and will not have to lose their innocence unwillingly just to keep their childhood dream.

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