x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Giving hope to the sport without dope

A former teammate of Lance Armstrong's puts his team through severe tests as he aims to clean up cycling.

The Italian Damiano Cunego from Lampre is endorsing the 'Doping Free' campaign.
The Italian Damiano Cunego from Lampre is endorsing the 'Doping Free' campaign.

CHOLET // Jonathan Vaughters is on a mission to clean up cycling. The one-time teammate of seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong heads up Team Garmin - one of the 20 teams competing in the Tour de France and priding itself on being the cleanest, giving their riders up to 20 times the tests of other teams.

Vaughters is not naive enough to think that cycling is 100 per cent clean but he is doing his best to make sure the doping stories of previous years are not repeated this time around. However, the American says: "I expect this year's race to be clean. There's certainly been plenty of years previously where I wouldn't have said that but this time it's different. Put it this way, I really hope it is clean and we've hopefully done our part in making that possible."

There is a slight irony to Vaughters' masterplan in that one of his lead riders is David Millar, who previously served a two-year ban for doping. But Millar has gone from drug cheat to drug preacher as he bids to do his part in cleaning up cycling's tarnished image to such an extent that the team's message is perhaps even more important to the 31-year-old than his results. Millar said: "The team's sending a massive message not just in cycling but in sport in general. But the message needs us to win races. We want to say you don't have to dope and you can still win."

Vaughters has completely shifted the markers by basing his team on riding clean above everything else. However, he readily admits that his system is not foolproof and there may still be drug cheats in the sport, even in his own team. "All I can do is everything I can to ensure they're not doping" he said. "I think I'm doing that with our testing programme but the thing is I can't babysit these guys 24 hours a day. I certainly hope it doesn't end up being the case - if it did happen I'd be massively disappointed.

"But this isn't a completely fool-proof system. What we're talking about is doping tests not IQ tests and, if these guys decide to dope, they're the idiots." Already the message that Vaughters is spreading with Team Garmin, until recently known as Slipstream before a new pre-Tour sponsor was brought on board, is having an affect on other cycling teams and sport at large. Cofidis are among those following suit with the testing programme while chiefs from other sports in America have already been in contact with Vaughters about the route he's taken and the obstacles he's faced.