In the early hours tomorrow morning, the final Grand Tour of the cycling season begins with the 76th Vuelta a España and the battle for the maillot rojo (red jersey).
Let me set my stall out from the start: I don’t believe former dopers have any place in the management or training of current professionals.
Be it Eric Zabel, Bjarne Riis, Matt White or any other former pro that has either admitted to doping or been outed post-career, their presence within the firmament of the top tiers of the sport is, I believe, sending the wrong message to the current crop of professionals and, even more damaging, to the ranks of amateurs aspiring to turn professional.
And then we have Jonathan Vaughters, the former professional rider-turned-impressario who ran the Slipstream team that in 2009 entered the ProTour ranks, founded on a platform that advocated a drug-free approach to cycling at the highest level.
Vaughters’ men stood out in an era that many felt – correctly, it emerged – was riven by illegal substance abuse.
They were lauded for their honest and ethical approach to the sport, and drew in sponsors and fans alike on the back of their pledge to ride clean.
And yet not was all as it seemed. Not even close. In August 2012 Vaughters admitted to doping in a New York Times article, though only after rumors were circulating through the cycling world that he was to be outed for the very act he so bravely admitted to.
“I chose to lie over killing my dream,” he wrote in The Times article. “I chose to dope. I am sorry for that decision, and I deeply regret it.”
He then went on to claim that, well, everyone else was at it, so what was there to do? You were either on the bus, it seemed, or not.
Interestingly, Vaughters’ advice to those who have doped is the first thing they must do it to apologise to the fans, exactly as he did – years after the fact, when that apology means absolutely zero to anyone.
Here is a former doper who funded and set up a team based on a clean riding policy that was stacked with – you guessed it – former dopers.
David Millar was the most famous, having returned from a ban to become the media’s go-to-guy on all matters doping.
But it later emerged, thanks to the Lance Armstrong case, that there were other dopers in the Vaughters’ stable, men who many assumed were clean as whistles.
Christian Vande Velde, Dave Zabriskie and Tom Danielson were all exposed as dopers too.
Add to that the reinstatement at the highest level of another doper, Thomas Dekker, and you may see a pattern emerging.
Vaughters started this team not by admitting his doping past nor by stating that any of his riders had doped, but by parading them as a clean team, full of clean riders trying to change the sport.
Would he have secured the sponsorship needed to fund a top pro team had he admitted even his own past?
Think about that for a moment, all those of you who will say that at least he was trying to change things: Vaughters would not even have come close to having his own team had he admitted his past. Not even close.
That is the problem I have with Jonathan Vaughters.
The whole thing has been a fraud and a sham from the get go. What nobility can come from that beginning? What morality?
And now, as if this was just what the sport needed, we have the revelations by Danish rider Michael Rasmussen, infamous for leaving of the 2007 Tour de France while wearing Yellow after it was revealed he lied about his whereabouts for a doping test, about Ryder Hesjedal.
Rasmussen claims in his new book he taught 2012 Giro d’Italia winner Hesjedal – whose win by many, me included, was lauded as a victory for clean riding – how to inject EPO.
Rasmussen had three Canadian mountain bikers staying at his house in 2003 – Seamus McGrath, Chris Sheppard and Ryder Hesjedal.
He writes in his book the three “had seen the light: A good result in the World Cup (2003) would send them to the Olympics in Athens in 2004.
“They moved into my basement in August,” writes Rasmussen, “before I went to the Vuelta a España, and after I had ridden the Championship of Zurich.
“They stayed for a fortnight. I trained with them in the Dolomites and taught them how to do vitamin injections and how to take EPO and Synacthen.”
Hesjedal’s response? You guessed it, an apology.
“I have loved and lived this sport but more than a decade ago, I chose the wrong path,” said Hesjedal, echoing Zabriskie’s and Vaughter’s statements in an eerie fashion.
“Even though those mistakes happened more than 10 years ago, and they were short-lived, it does not change the fact that I made them and I have lived with that and been sorry for it ever since.”
Phew, that’s a relief! He’s sorry about it.
Vaughters’ attitude to ex-dopers is a clear one – that they should be forgiven and allowed back into the sport in the hope that they have learnt from their mistakes and thus can improve the sport.
That’s a very convenient outlook to have, because it corresponds precisely to his own situation.
If he had never doped, do you think he’d have the same view? No, I doubt it.
Others who were pros and never doped tend to want the ex-dopers out, forever.
Vaughters is a product of his environment and he is twisting this way and that to justify his own existence and his place in the sport – and packing his team with ‘ex’-dopers in the meantime.
Is Hesjedal the tipping point for JV? Just how many guys on your roster can be exposed long after the fact to be dopers before you get red carded? Three? Four? Five?
Yet another sad indictment on the prevailing attitudes within the sport.
If Brian Cookson wants to do something truly positive, he should turf Jonathan Vaughters out of the sport, once and for all.