I read this New York Times mea culpa from Jonathan Vaughters this morning and it made me sad. When I raced in the 1990’s, Vaughters was one guy with a reputation for being clean. But it’s hard to believe that anybody who raced at that level in late 90’s and early 00’s was clean. And this op-ed piece only confirms it further.
I was part of that lost generation who tried to race clean in the age of EPO, pot belge, limited sponsorship dollars and pro contracts that were hard to come by. Friends went to race in Europe and returned filled with despair. There were tales of mysterious packages from Mexico, suitcases full of drugs tendered during contract negotiations, riders injecting themselves with all sorts of things. There were guys who, after years of obscurity, suddenly had results along with suddenly altered bodies. Guys who made it onto pro teams told stories of being doped up to the permissable limits with testosterone or caffeine. Young athletes on the Junior National team were unknowingly injected with drugs. Dutch riders were dying in their sleep from EPO. It was all around me. And I wanted to pretend it didn’t exist. Acknowledging so would have put the dream at risk.
It’s great that riders who’ve doped are finally admitting it, though many have done so when they have nothing left to loose. I’m a fan of David Millar who took his suspension, admitted his failure, and came back clean. I believe in Vaughter’s cause. (Though I think there’s a part deux to his story once the Lance Armstrong – USADA doping charges become public.) I want cycling to be a clean sport, even if such a thing is improbable. It’s too late for my own aspirations. But not for my kid.
Maybe now is the time for the other riders to come forward: those who chose to take the path of obscurity, to give up on the dream, to leave the sport they loved because they refused to see themselves become part of the corruption. Maybe it’s time to take it back.