Vaughters renews call for independent body to look at cycling’s errors

Jonathan Vaughters says that although cycling is cleaner than in past years, an independent body needs to help the sport learn from its past

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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PARIS (VN) — Jonathan Vaughters says cycling needs to embrace the Lance Armstrong scandal as an opportunity to put the sport on a new footing toward a cleaner, more credible future.

The Garmin-Sharp team manager says the torrid headlines surrounding the Armstrong Affair should be viewed as a window of opportunity for cycling to confront its past in order to move the sport forward.

“This case, and everything that’s come out of it, in the long-term, is very good for cycling,” Vaughters said Wednesday. “That’s important because it sends a message to all the young riders in the world, even if you do dope today, and maybe you can get away with it tomorrow, but maybe 10 years from now it still comes back. As a deterrent, you cannot come up with a more poignant message than that for the long-term health of cycling.”

Vaughters, who attended Wednesday’s official course presentation, told reporters that many within the sport are pressing for more effective action in the wake of the devastating Armstrong doping scandal.

He backs the idea of a truth and reconciliation effort as well as calls for an external review of cycling’s anti-doping measures.

During a meeting Tuesday in Paris, the AIGCP (Association International des Groupes Cycliste Professionels) voted unanimously to back efforts for an independent review of cycling’s anti-doping program.

Vaughters, who is president of the professional group that represents more than 30 top-level pro teams, said every team attending the Tuesday meeting voted to support the proposal.

In the wake of the searing USADA report, which detailed a decade-long doping ring designed to cheat and avoid doping controls, many are skeptical of the UCI’s ability to effectively handle the sport’s anti-doping program.

The UCI on Monday rubber-stamped the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s call for a lifetime ban against Armstrong, but stopped short of accepting any blame or responsibility for cycling’s flourishing EPO era.

Tuesday’s meeting called for an independent panel to review how anti-doping controls are implemented and managed by the UCI. The group wants the participation of the World Anti-Doping Agency, the UCI and perhaps a third entity, such as the French anti-doping agency. So far, none of those groups have officially reacted.

Vaughters said an independent review would help erase doubts about the credibility of cycling’s commitment to a cleaner peloton.

“Things could be clarified by looking at things independently and getting recommendations about how we can avoid any problems going forward,” Vaughters said. “It needs to be looked at objectively from outside the sport to determine what’s gone right, what’s gone wrong, and to decide what actions would be correct.”

On Wednesday, Vaughters was the center of attention among scores of journalists attending the 2013 Tour presentation, giving more interviews than some of the pros attending the event.

Vaughters played a key role in helping U.S. Anti-Doping Agency investigators get to the bottom of the Armstrong doping ring. Not only did he give testimony about his own doping practices when he was a member of the U.S. Postal Service team, he also gave full support to current Garmin riders to step forward.

David Zabriskie, Christian Vande Velde and Tom Danielson provided some of the most damning witness testimony in the USADA case against Armstrong. All three are currently serving reduced racing bans of six months, but will rejoin the team next year.

Vaughters said confronting cycling’s past is the only way to fully move forward and renewed calls for a truth and reconciliation effort to help turn the page on the EPO era.

“I think the past has to be looked at objectively and we have to move forward,” he said. “There has to come a time when we have to say that a large number of people made a mistake, let’s be 100-percent truthful. We can reconcile that, find the mistakes and prevent new mistakes, but from that point forward, it has to be absolute zero tolerance. But first, it has to be all the truth. Once we get to the bottom, then the reconciliation, then zero tolerance, then move forward.”

Vaughters said that the sport should see the Armstrong scandal as an opportunity to fully confront its past and then bury it.

“When you’re going through a dark tunnel, the best way is to keep going. If you try to back up, it doesn’t work,” he said. “Cycling needs to come to a point where truthfulness can be accepted and we need to find out what went wrong, what went right, and use an independent commission to examine that.”

The notion of mass confessions and pardons is gaining momentum in many circles, especially for doping infractions that happened nearly a decade ago or among retired pros now working as sport directors. WADA president John Fahey last week said he would support the effort and suggested the WADA Code could be amended to allow for mass confessions from ex-dopers.

The UCI’s management committee is meeting Friday and is expected to address the issue as well as debate whether Armstrong’s seven Tours should be awarded to anyone else. Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has said that race organizers prefer not to award Armstrong’s wins to other riders on those podiums, many of whom were involved in their own doping infractions during the course of their respective careers.

“How do you determine who the winner is? You take away the winner, then who’s in second? Then who’s in third? How do you end up as a winner? I do not know,” Vaughters said. “It’s a period that needs to be learned from, and then move forward.”

When asked if he agrees with UCI president Pat McQuaid’s suggestion that Armstrong needs to be forgotten, Vaughters said that’s the wrong message to send.

“I don’t think it should be forgotten at all,” he said. “You have to look at that era in cycling. You have to look at everything that’s gone on, including Lance. You have to be honest and learn from it. If you just try to forget him, you’re never going to learn.”

Despite the negative headlines about cycling’s dirty past haunting the sport today, Vaughters insists the sport is cleaner now than ever. Stricter controls, the biological passport and a wide cultural change within the peloton have all contributed to what Vaughters says is a more credible peloton.

“The improvement has been immense. I believe the sport now is in a better place than it’s ever been in 100 years,” he said. “Where we are now, in 2012, is an excellent time for clean cycling. The pressure has to stay on in order for it to stay that way. OK, we cannot say, ‘we won the battle of doping, everyone go home.’ The battle against doping is every day, every race, every minute. It can never stop, or else you lose ground very fast.”

Vaughters said the Armstrong scandal will also heighten pressure on cycling’s institutions and anti-doping controls to fight even harder to regain lost credibility.

“When you see a scandal like this, people say it’s bad, but it keeps the pressure very hard on the sport and that’s the way it will stay clean going forward,” he said. “The biological passport has been an effective deterrent. It has to continue to evolve and improve to keep in step with what’s going on. The past two or three years in cycling have been very, very good and I am hoping that people will start to see that improvement that’s gone on, rather than looking at 10 years ago.”

Vaughters was evasive, however, when queried about Armstrong’s legacy. When asked if he believes Armstrong would eventually confess, he said: “That’s up to Lance. He needs to decide that.” When asked if he believes Armstrong should still be considered a champion, he paused and said, “That’s not for me to say.”

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