Vaughters – part 2

August 16, 2012

Monday I wrote part 1 of my commentary regarding Vaughters’ opinion piece in the NYT, here’s part 2.

Aside from the personal experience he’s had, the key subject of the article was that it’s important to keep up the anti-doping efforts. Athletes just want a level playing field, if they think they have that they won’t cheat. The goal is to never put the athlete in the position where they have to choose between giving up their dream or doping, to create an environment where this is simply not an issue.

I thought the article was a bit lean on specifics of how that was to be achieved so there isn’t that much to comment on.

In my opinion,  it’s a bit too simplistic that athletes don’t want to cheat and only want a level playing field. There’s good research that most people will cheat a little when given the chance (The (honest) truth about dishonesty from Dan Ariely is very interesting and an easy read on this topic).

But it’s probably true that most people don’t want to mess around with needles and blood bags unless their environment encourages it and makes it feel “normal”. The choice to cheat seems to come from two sources which reinforce each other:

  1. The overall athlete population (the playing field). If the top-100 dope then you have to resign to coming 101st or dope or quit.
  2. Your immediate surrounding (your parents, trainers, and in particular: your team). Does this environment try to keep you on the right path or offer you the doping “solution”. This doesn’t mean the athlete is not responsible for their own actions, but it would be silly to deny that people are influenced by other people.

Surroundings that discourage doping have always existed in cycling. Even in the dark years when “everybody was doping”, some riders and in fact entire teams were not. There is the famous chat session between Vaughters and Andreu from mid-2005 where the former explains that Credit Agricole was completely clean (“believe me, as carzy [sic] as it sounds – Moreau was on nothing. Hct of 39%”). The whole chat is an interesting read.

The playing field you can affect in two ways:

  1. Hunt the dopers. This is what most anti-doping efforts are based on, with doping tests in- and out-of-competition, whereabouts,  internal team tests, biological passports, etc. One can argue about the effectiveness.
  2. Increase the number of immediate environments that are clean. If there are five clean teams on a playing field with 20 teams, that playing field isn’t very level. And dopers don’t really stand out. If 15 out of 20 are clean, it’s much easier to pick out the cheaters and there is enough mental support within the clean group to sustain the effort.

With regards to hunting the dopers, despite all its shortcomings, cycling has done a reasonable job. Especially in comparison to other sports. But if Vaughters truly finds it important to keep pushing these anti-doping efforts, then it’s hard to understand why fewer and fewer teams hire independent testers like Don Catlin to really find out what their riders are doing. Or why no team makes any public statements regarding the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the biological passport and other efforts. Especially since Vaughters is the president of the team association AIGCP, you would expect him to spend more time talking about these issues.

One gets the feeling the teams don’t mind paying for the bulk of the program as a marketing exercise and are not too concerned how effective it is. That may very well be a general anti-doping problem – how do you prevent the athletes from always being one step ahead.

Unfortunately I don’t know the answer, but the closer you monitor, the more you restrict the doping practices and therefore level the playing field (some may still be doping but less, for a reduced gain, and therefore the clean athlete has a better chance).

As for the number of teams that are clean, there’s definitely been an improvement too. But it’s hard to know if they have been responding to the testing or if the teams are true believers. especially because many of the people are still the same as in the dark years, it’s fair to have your doubts.

27 Responses to “Vaughters – part 2”

  1. Luis Oliveira Says:

    Gotcha! This post made it easy to put my finger on what is off: you see this as a fricking religion!!! “True believer”! Really!

    I would argue that it does not matter one tiny bit if one believes or not. I, for one, don’t give a rats’ ass for beliefs, I only care for action.

    So, lets discuss the levelness of the playing filed (and, man, there is a lot to be done, as you so correctly point out), not the motivations of the people supporting it.

    • It matters a lot. Because if a lot of the teams who are now clean only do so out of convenience, not because they think it’s the right thing to do, then that means they would switch back whenever that is convenient. So that would be a volatile situation, not a stable foundation to build the sport on.

      And no, it’s not a religion.

      • Luis Oliveira Says:

        Sorry Gerard, but this is THE definition of a religion. We could go on and on with cliches like “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” but I think that you agree that a good system of incentives can keep bad people in check, whereas a bad system won’t save the best of us.

        Man, you mentioned Ariely. Lose all hope and embrace the fact that we are imperfect humans.

  2. Evan Shaw Says:

    As in the recent Velonews article on do cyclists need unions, I say, give them a true union, and make WADA contractual and legally independent and with clout. What might begin to happen is it is NOT in the interest of the racers, teams, organizers nor anyone to have doping. Right now it serves all of them to overlook it. And while at it get rid of the feudal UCI and the despotic types such as McQuaid. We can have accountability and have riders have due process protections, pensions, TV rights, health insurance and rights to change teams etc. I think there is a way, if there is the will, that is.

    • One Correction Says:

      There are several professional sports with strong unions at this time and their anti-doping protocols are horrible. The player’s unions negotiate the number of controls done per team and per player. Baseball tests the athletes at spring training (only an idiot would be caught then) and once more during the season. They even have random testing! That means that a player is likely to be tested only twice a year! Yeah! If the majority of the athletes are doping, they will not choose more testing with a strong union. The culture needs to change first, then the union will be effective at doping removal.

  3. Evan Shaw Says:

    Gerard that Vaughters and Andreu chat is quite amazing! Good grief Charlie Brown, what a chat!!!!!

  4. Joe Papp Says:

    GV – I’m pleased to report that I’ll be contributing to Dan Ariely’s work (hopefully along w/ another well-known former US pro cyclist who competed at the highest level) and submitting to his enquiry late next month, when I will endeavour to dispel Vaughter’s myth that the only thing a cyclist wants vís-a-vìs doping is a level playing field and that they won’t cheat if a rigorous anti-doping system is in place.

    I take more abuse than I think is warranted from folks who question my motivation for speaking publicly or otherwise seek to belittle/devalue/deny my experiences, but the importance of contributing to a project like Ariely’s to develop a more accurate picture and understanding of motivation and action around doping in sport (and cheating in life?) is too significant to resist. Presently, I think it’s both an honor and a responsibility (to submit to his enquiry – though that might change if it’s unpleasant lol).

    [NOTE: this is 3rd time I’m trying to post this comment, seemingly w/o success. However, if the first two times were somehow successful, please prune the duplicates. Thanks!]

    • One Correction Says:

      I appreciate your help with the anti-doping effort. And although you are trying hard to dispel your image of a facilitator of cheating, I think it will be very hard for cycling fans to applaud you in the way that they do for David Millar. I know that I am on the fence as well.

      Thank you for trying but I am wondering about your real motives. Once bitten, twice shy, I guess.

      • But how do you judge? Most people don’t know any of these athletes personally. So then what you are judging, is that how these people are, how they’ve changed? Or are you merely judging how good their PR is?

        You often see with these born-again clean athletes (or even those who’ve never been caught) that they have a very tight PR protocol. They won’t sit down with critical journalists, at press conferences certain topics are off-limits, their confessions or follow-up statements come in the form of autobiographies or other very controlled and scripted scenarios. It’s as if they need to be in control (see also Evan Shaw’s comments elsewhere, although I don’t fully agree with him). Is it because they still have something to hide or because speaking from the heart ad-lib may reveal an undesirable side?

        I’m not saying that everybody ad-libbing it is the answer, because some people have better skills than others so you’re still measuring skill not sincerity.

        All in all it’s tough.

        • Evan Shaw Says:

          Gerard. Please know the risk of blogs is not having room to fully explain. I am not saying folks who dope are homogeneous group. Rather all groups have diversity with varying levels of these attributes. That said, the evidence from an individual with the history doping procuring dealing and at this scale speaks to sociopathy ie grandiosity entitlement superiority and disregard for the rights of others. They rarely change as these attitudes are ensconced in denial rationalization projection and blame. When the individual also intelligent they may also rise to the level of what is commonly labeled a con. Turning in others avoiding jail and becoming a vanguard spokesperson speaks to these methods. Hey, just my opinion

    • Evan Shaw Says:

      Joe as a pervasive user of multiple substances AND a dealer and pusher on a grand scale of hundreds of thousands of dollars to athletes of many disciplines you must be held to a higher level of accountability than cyclists who simply followed the leeds of others.

      As a research social scientist it is a known fact that individuals with your criminal behavior have over entitlement and victim personalities. And that following arrest they do not surrender these entitled ways. Instead of following a path of helping others THEY decide to become so called leaders and fool themselves and others by appearing to help when in fact their self centered and egotistical ways are merely redirected.

      If you wish to be truly helpful you will listen to others and do community service of some kind as directed by others. And you will gracefully exit your egotistical plans to be of so called service to racing.

      Much is already known of your and others behavior. Your shaing is not particularly needed.

      If you follow these genuinely repentant and reparative ways I wish you the best.

      • Joe Papp Says:

        Does the fact that you manifest significant errors of fact in your recitation of my alleged activities delegitimize your entire argument or just call into question the reliability of certain component matters? I’m inclined to think that one who is going to claim the right to both judge others and demand that the standards to which they be held surpass those of “normal” citizens, likewise be compelled to demonstrate unimpeachability in their pronouncements or re-evaluate their capacity to act in this role…

  5. DH Says:

    There will always be an element of cheating in any competition and in life in general. Where an advantage can be gained by this, someone will pursue it. Moreover it remaiins very painful to see our idols as criminals, cheaters or liars.

    Yet this will inevitably occur.

    What ultimately protects us in the US is the rule of law. If behavior is far enough out of line that it becomes illegal or subject to a substantive lawsuit, then the legal system will eventually, usually bring the behavior back in line or result in a remedy of some sort.

  6. trounder Says:

    GV- It is complicated trying to understanding human nature. All things being equal, cheaters will cheat in some form or fashion. But when the game is rigged, the conceit that “cheating” really isn’t cheating becomes a powerfully coercisve rationalization. It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact.

    I think it’s possible that you and JV are saying the same thing. I interpreted JV’s “level playing field” to be the same thing as your 1) rigorous testing protocols and 2) clean team structures. You have both reached the same finish line using different words. Likewise, based on your words and deeds, (mistakes? and all) it seems that you have both arrived at your complimentary positions guided by your morals.

    Perhaps the “controversies” of timing and spin that permeate some of the critiques I’m reading of JV’s NYT mea culpa stem from the inately human capacity for pettiness. I tend to think that it is possible that self-interest need not be mutually exclusive from an intense passion for the best interests of ____[fill in the blank]. I think this, especially considering – not in spite of – the fact that JV created his own second chance quite openly to achieve both of the conclusions you have highlighted.

    The other sense I’m getting from comments is that the only solution is to “purge and reboot” the cycling community. Drastic actions (as opposed to methodical or incremental change) will fix all. I will quote JV’s response to Steve Tilford’s August 16th blog entry on the topic: “You’re right, i am methodical with this. Been methodical about it for years and years. Drastic has proven to be ineffective. I’ll take slow and steady over ineffective.”

    Until JV is banned from cycling because he has now admitted to breaking the rules, I trust that his actions vis a vis Slipstream, the AIGCP, and the media are aligned with your shared goals and are seemingly at the forefront of his motivations.

    Thanks again for creating a space to share these thoughts!

  7. Adam Says:

    @ Evan – best summary of Papps behaviour I have read yet. Succintly describes why myself, like others, have such difficulty applauding his ‘redirected’ efforts.

  8. […] on doping in a couple of posts earlier this week (you can find Part 1 here, and Part 2 here). Vroomen is more usympathetic to other opinions I’ve seen and it is, I believe, a more real […]

  9. Evan Shaw Says:

    Gerard, please do read the Bicycling piece. I dearly hope that JV, when the time comes for proper legal due process, that he reveal the truth, the whole truth, about US Postal, as part of his restitution and effort to bring the sport forward.

    • Luis Oliveira Says:

      It is absolutely an brilliant interview. Very clear and to the point.

      “…In his op-ed, Vaughters called for better anti-doping enforcement. I ask what he meant by that.

      “Money,” he says. Money funds better testing, and research for better tests, so that anti-doping authorities can keep up with advances in cheating. “

      • I don’t get it. In the op-ed piece, he says all athletes want is a level playing field. In the interview, he says athletes will always want an edge and only strong anti-doping can keep them in check. Which is it?

        • Luis Oliveira Says:

          There is no fundamental opposition of a playing level field regarding anti-doping policies and and trying to obtain an edge by better training, for example.

        • But that’s not what he is saying. you don’t need to keep up anti-doping measures because people are trying to find an edge through training, he’s saying you need to keep it up because otherwise people will dope.

        • Luis Oliveira Says:

          What I got from the interview (and at this point we’re discussing our personal interpretations / biases on what he’s saying) is that you must close the doping option, while leaving the other legitimate options available. That seems like a sensible enough opinion.

        • Joe Papp Says:

          and thus is once again revealed the complexity of the doping issue and the folly of trying to force discussion of it into a narrow, black&white construct…

          bravo GV for maintaining your intellectual honesty and rationality through months of pontificating on the part of some other pundits!

    • Luis Oliveira Says:

      “When I go to the other team managers and say we should put in more money, I almost get spit in the face,” he says. “They’re like, ‘Fuck that. Why would I put in more money to an organization that only seeks to hurt my team?’”
      That organization is the UCI…”

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