That funny taste in my mouth

August 23, 2012 § 19 Comments

In the same week that Lance Armstrong’s challenge to USADA got tossed out of court, Bicycling Magazine released an in-depth interview with Jonathan Vaughters about his doping past. The irony was exquisite.

On the one hand, Armstrong is in the final throes of being ground down by a long, tortuous process that punishes drug cheats. On the other, Vaughters has escaped all punishment, been rewarded as a hero and spokesman for clean cycling, and continues to make a comfortable living at the pinnacle of the sport whose rules he once abused with abandon.

Is it justice? Or is it Memorex?

To be sure, Armstrong still has a few cards left to play, but they’re certainly not face cards from a strong suit. At this point, however, it’s hard to imagine his athletic career and sporting legacy ever reviving. You just don’t come back from a lifetime ban unless you’re a zombie.

There is, in the anti-Armstrong camp, a sense of jubilation, or grim satisfaction, or plain relief that the doors of the doping jail are closing shut. What there isn’t, and what there shouldn’t be, is a sense of justice having been done.

Vaughters proves it.

Unlike Hamilton, or Landis, or Basso, or Ullrich, or Pantani, or Virenque, or Millar, or any of the numerous riders sanctioned for cheating, Vaughters walked. The same system that has zeroed in on Armstrong and made sure that he gets punished for cheating has turned a blind eye to Vaughters. It has done more than turn a blind eye: It has anointed him.

How can this possibly be fair, even in the weird world of pro cycling? The sops at Bicycling can barely even raise the question, let alone pursue it with the rigor of a journalist.

Lips moving? He’s lying.

In the interview, Vaughters contradicts himself with previous statements so quickly that it’s as if he doesn’t believe in the Internet. Here’s Vaughters, a scant ten days ago in the NYT:

If the message I was given had been different, but more important, if the reality of sport then had been different, perhaps I could have lived my dream without killing my soul. Without cheating.

Here he is today:

Obviously, I’m not a victim. The decision (to dope) was mine and mine alone.

Which of these two versions would he like to have for dinner? They’re mutually exclusive. If a rotten system forced him to choose between cheating and quitting, he was a victim. If, on the other hand, the decision to dope was his and his alone, he’s not a victim, but rather a douchey cheat. Sound confusing? It is, even to Vaughters. That’s what happens when you’re a habitual liar: You can’t keep your bullshit straight even in the same article.

Immediately after telling us that the decision to dope was his and his alone, he describes the process through which his team director, a devout and principled man, told him that henceforth he would be put on EPO. Vaughters:

I quickly figured out he was talking about EPO. As much as I should’ve said no, and as much as I was intelligent and should have said, ‘Wait, this is bullshit,’ in my mind he’d just spelled out that I wasn’t going to dope; we’d just make my hematocrit what it would have been had I not been riding my bike so damn much.

In this scenario, Vaughters was either forced into it by his team boss, ergo victim, or he knew what he was doing and did it anyway, ergo douchey cheat.

Let the ends justify the means

Vaughters flips back and forth between “I’m not a victim” and “The system made me do it” over and over, and he does so with good reason. Not only is the interviewer, Joe Lindsey, a patsy, but these mutually exclusive explanations are the only way out of the dense forest of logic and morality that has him hemmed in on all sides.

To be a victim is untenable because no one would believe him. To have done everything of his own free will strips him of the moral high ground he’s so desperately seeking to gain in the eyes of the cycling public.

Vaughters plays his readers for fools, and his interviewer for a buffoon, by talking about what a difference doping can make. Here, in the NYT:

How much does that last 2 percent really matter? In elite athletics, 2 percent of time or power or strength is an eternity.

Then, a few days later, he patronizingly lectures his audience that the true evil of blood vector doping is that it gives certain users massive advantages that are far more than marginal:

“He [Vaughters] goes on to explain that the largest gains in oxygen transport occur in the lower hematocrit ranges—a 50 percent increase in RBC count is not a linear 50 percent increase in oxygen transport capability. The rider with the lower hematocrit is actually extremely efficient at scavenging oxygen from what little hemoglobin that he has, comparatively. So when you boost his red-cell count, he goes a lot faster.”

Vaughters’s point for Bicycling is not that dopers dope for an extra two percent, but that they do it for potentially massive gains depending on their physiology. Which is it? Two percent? Or the logarithmic increase depending on your body’s natural capacity for scouring oxygen?

Does it even matter?

Not really

In the context of pushing for cleaner pro competitions, we can and should excuse this mumbo-jumbo that’s easier for Vaughters to say than, “I’m a lying douchey cheat, thanks for all the money.” But in the context of fairness, he shouldn’t get off so easily.

Or, since he has, maybe we should take a minute and deflate for a minute now that Judge Sparks has sent the Armstrong legal team packing. If Lance gets hung out to dry, and Vaughters is deified as the admitted madman running the asylum, was justice done?

Are we good with calling one douchey cheat a douchey cheat, and calling another douchey cheat a role model and hero?

Doesn’t that stick in your throat?

Just a little?

Sure does in mine.

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§ 19 Responses to That funny taste in my mouth

  • privateer says:

    I believe there are shades of grey.

    That said, cycling is a sport where you’re supposed to kick in their teeth and then raise your arms as you cross the line. Show no mercy. That’s why when someone says they doped “just to keep up” and ends up breaking records while soloing a mountaintop finishes, it just doesn’t resonate with me. So tell me that you doped so you could maintain your superiority complex, not that you did it to avoid being blown out the back. I do not accept the victim excuse.

  • Bill Clinton says:

    Brother, you’re making a big deal out of nothing. Yes, his two, statements “I am not a victim, it was my choice alone,” and “there were lots of people and circumstances convincing me to do it” are mutually exclusive.

    They are also completely normal, and a simple sign of a man attempting to take responsibility for what he did. Yes, there are endless reasons to dope, but Vaughters seems to feel like he should have been strong enough to resist. He is telling the details of what happened, and how it happened, but emphasizing that he doesn’t blame anyone more than himself.

    Everyone can say the same about a bad choice they made, going into their thought process at the time, and all the circumstances that, if had been different, would have changed the outcome, but the right thing for a man to do is take responsibility for his own choices.

    Vaughters has now been a powerful force in anti-doping for years. He never made it to super celebrity and fabulous wealth through his cheating. I love the sport, and I don’t think he should be removed from it.

    • Admin says:

      I don’t think he should be removed, either. He’s an advocate for clean sport. He has avoided cheating scandals on his watch. Perhaps within his team the message really is that cheating won’t be tolerated. If so, good for him, and we need more of that at all levels of society.

      Part of accepting responsibility for your misdeeds, however, includes accepting punishment. Hamilton et al., and soon Armstrong, have paid dearly for their cheating, financially and in terms of their ability to participate in the sport.

      It sticks in my craw that Vaughters gets off with nothing while others are punished. If people want to celebrate the punishment of Armstrong because he cheated and is now being punished; i.e. because justice is being done, then they need to take the gloves off with regard to Vaughters. Why does he get a pass? Much of what he says is gobbeldy gook, contradictory, and transparent bullshit. Read his rationalization for why it’s okay that he not be punished. “Who would I give the money to?”

      Are we that desperate for someone to admire? I’m not.

      So far he’s atoned for nothing and suffered zero consequences for his admitted cheating. To the contrary, he continues to be enriched despite admitting to the same behavior that has terminated the careers of people in his identical position.

  • Courtland says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more on this tale of hypocrisy!

    • Admin says:

      He’s anti-doping! He’s a doper!

      • loosewheels says:

        I disagree with one aspect. Pharmstrong hasn’t paid dearly for anything yet except, perhaps, for all the gallons of Hemassist (artificial blood product intended for trauma patients), for UCI pay-offs and for “coaching” from Drug Lord Ferrari. It sucks shit that he has used all his millions to levitate above the law. Cuntador seemed a major asshole at the time he was finally sanctioned but at least he served a suspension (albeit a backdated one). Pharmstrong’s continued lies

      • loosewheels says:

        In the face of evidence gathered by the USADA and already believed by most followers of the sport is disgusting and disillusioning.

  • Mike says:

    I mostly agree with you, but that JV took himself out of doping grants him some forgiveness in my book. He didn’t just keep doing it until he was caught. I don’t feel his wrongs are on the same level as LA. Punish him sure…2 yr coaching ban, 25% of his salary to anti-doping programs, something. But, I would let him stay in the sport if it was my call.

    • Admin says:

      Agreed, let him stay. Man, we’re powerful!

    • Hwy. 39 says:

      He lied about it back then. How do we know he’s telling the (whole) truth now? The offenses he admits and the anectodal experiences he relates to Bicycling, if true, confirm that the vast majority of the European peloton was doping. So taking away Pharmstrong’s seven TdF’s and awarding them to the runner up (or worse no winner at all) helps bicycle racing to be clean today and grow in the future how? I’ll answer for you, it doesn’t.

      The test for EPO and the biological passport have begun to clean up the sport. The witch hunt vendetta against Pharmstrong only continues to perpetuate the reputation of cycling as a dirty sport. USADA, WADA, and UCI would do better to spend their time and money promoting the EPO test and biological passport program to the public. This would increase fan interest and also draw top flight sponsors back to the sport.

      The big question I have today is why on earth would Pharmstrong quit his defense now?

      I doubt the USADA case is as strong as they are making out to be. They have samples of Pharmstrong’s blood from back in the day. They have a test now for EPO. It’s not much of an assumption to think they tested the old samples. I’m sure we would have heard (either officially or through a leak) that one of his samples had tested positive. So their case comes down to the word of a bunch of cheaters saying whatever the prosecution wants them to say in exchange for imunity or reduced punishment.

      Fricking hall monitors. Give those douchebags a gram of authority and they think they are God.

      • Mike says:

        “The big question I have today is why on earth would Pharmstrong quit his defense now?”

        Simple answer really…he’s guilty and knows he can’t win in arbitration. That’s blatantly obvious, if you ask me.

        Your rant reeks of douchebaggery, but I’m sure WM will stomp on your dick himself.

      • Admin says:

        It depends on what you think the issue is. For example:

        1. Should cheaters be punished?
        a. USADA has evidence they are prepared present in arbitration to show he cheated.
        b. Armstrong claims he never cheated.
        c. Let the competing claims and respective evidence be shown and weighed.
        d. Declare him a cheater or non-cheater, and levy punishment or let him walk.

        2. Will this help the sport of professional cycling?
        Follow up: I don’t give a rat’s ass about the sport of professional cycling.

        3. Is it fair that Lance gets hung out to dry while other cheaters like Vaughters and Riis are at the pinnacle of the sport?
        a. No.
        b. All enforcement actions require you to choose your defendants. You can’t prosecute everyone. It’s like getting ticketed for speeding when the flow of traffic is 85. Sorry. Today was your unlucky day.

        4. How can you strip his titles when everyone was juiced?
        a. Perhaps you shouldn’t.
        b. But you can still impose a ban or negotiate an admission of guilt and payment of a fine.
        c. You should do the same with the other admitted dopers who are now running the madhouse.

        There are zillions more issues…It’s no longer just a case of doping. It’s a cultural phenomenon and Rorschach Test.

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