Jonathan Vaughters – Credible or Not?

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I’ll start this by saying, in a perfect world, I think, maybe Jonathan Vaughters would be a good benevolent dictator of the sport of cycling.   Notice the words I think and maybe.  Who knows?

I saw this Velonews article that pretty much just said, let’s give Jonathan a chance and “leave him alone for a bit.”   In the article, the author, John Brady wrote, “This team has been racing since 2005, and Danielson is the first doping positive. One in 10 years. Vaughters founded the parent organization in 2003 — when doping was at its peak — with the specific mission of racing clean. Vaughters isn’t the only person fighting drugs in cycling, nor even necessarily the most effective, but I challenge you to point to a current team manager who has been more vocal about cleaning things up.”

I get it, that was Jonathan’s intention, cleaning things up.  But Jonathan had/has to walk a very fine line between trying to adhere to his mission statement and running a successful professional cycling team. In reality, a World Tour team with no results is a team no more.

All this is understandable.  But the deal is that no one forced Jonathan into this role of,  “I’m managing the clean team.”   Somehow he decided that was his destiny.  But the way he has gone about following his declaration is pretty questionable, in my opinion.

Jonathan made this personal mission statement, he’d probably not call it that, but his intention to help rid the sport, and of course, his team of doping.  He did this actively over quite a few years, with lots of different methods.

I think his most credible method was latching onto Travis T. Tygart, CEO of USADA, the man who brought down Lance.   Associating himself with Travis legitimized Jonathan, in the media, as a man against doping.  Good move.

This and many other of his actions made him very popular with the cycling fans.  We were all sick and tired of  all this doping shit detracting from the beauty of the sport.  He was voted Cyclingnews fan favorite, for best non-rider on twitter, three years in a row.

Jonathan talks a great talk, but I don’t think he walks so straight.  I’ll give you my observations how I came up with this.

It probably all started with me writing about Tom Danielson a couple years ago.  This wasn’t good for Jonathan’s PR stance.   When Jonathan “quietly” released Tom’s doping past, he was ready for the deluge.  I think he must have spent 20 hours a day, for a couple of weeks, everywhere on social media, answers questions and leaving comments on tons of different forums.

And a few of these comments were concerning my observations.  He made a statement about how ridiculous and unfair it was for me to imply that Ryder Hesjedal was a doper just because he rode for one season on the Postal Service team.

This bugged me.  I knew Ryder Hesjedal was a doper because I had personally watched him massacre tons of very talented cyclists on his meteoric rise to the top of the sport of MTB racing.  Everyone that was participating in the sport watched, as whole nation of Canadians became superhuman overnight.    It was a joke.

I was a little more bugged when The Twisted Spoke wrote  “A Rebuttal to Steve Tilford hatchet job on Vaughter.”   I don’t think I did “a hatchet” job on Vaughters.  I think I wrote exactly what needed to be said at the time.  They said I was “quibbling” about the numbers Jonathan wrote in his NYT article.  If you’re saying numbers, lets say the correct ones, or at least numbers that truly reflect reality.  (I wonder if he feels the same now?)

Jonathan was using Ryder as an example of how you can win a Grand Tour clean.  I have no idea if Ryder won the Giro clean, but after Michael Rasmussen outed Ryder and a couple of others, Ryder’s Giro win definitely has an asterisk next to it in many people’s minds.    And in my mind, once you dope, you are always a doper.  The residual effects of PED’s have been shown to last a very, very long time.

Anyway, I must have bothered Jonathan enough that he called me and told me I needed to come to watch Tom Danielson and CVV do their pre-Tour testing in Denver.   Jonathan is a good guy and it was enjoyable talking to him.

I flew out to Denver and watched the testing.  And there is nothing I can report about that, other than Tom rode “test record” up to 6.5 watts/kg.  I’m not an exercise physiologist, so I have no idea whether I was watching normally aspirated testing or super charged testing.  The doctor, Iñigo San Millán said for sure, Tom’s results were clean, low hematocrit, etc.

What bothered me is that when I was talking to Tom and Christian, I asked them how often they did this testing and they said virtually never.  Like maybe three years earlier.  I had assumed, that Garmin, being the clean team would be doing internal testing and blood tests all time to keep track of their riders.  Guess not.

So, I got nothing from the observation meeting other than it did nothing to give me any information about the inner workings of “the clean team”.

Jonathan has stated many times that he had/has no problems giving riders with a doping history a 2nd chance.  He did this with many riders, most notable, David Millar.  But also, CVV, Dave Zabriski, Tom of course, Thomas Dekker and Ryder.

He says that the generation was forced into doping, so as long as they come clean when his signs them, that they can still race, now clean.

But, here is a problem that Jonathan has.  He knows that these riders have doped and lies by omission before their issues are known by the general public.

Let’s use Tom Danielson as an example.  Jonathan wrote an article for Cyclingweekly, back in 2009, that says that Tom is 20% Eskimo and has a unique physiological metabolism, he hasn’t used all his abilities.   His direct quote is – Tom Danielson in 20 per cent Eskimo in his heritage, and this probably contributes to what I can only describe as a unique metabolism.

He does this, knowing full well that Tom got to this point in his career by doping.  When Jonathan outed Tom, he wrote, “So, Tommy D… Here’s a guy that has used o2 vector doping, and with some success [Oxygen vector doping refers to increasing oxygen delivery to the muscles via increased hemoglobin, ed.]

Jonathan said he watched Tom’s progression in the sport, as I did.  Jonathan wrote is 2009 – “He was a young, unknown rider who came out of nowhere”.  It was obvious to me, and many, many others, how this occurred, by doping.   But, here is Jonathan, writing that he has a unique metabolism and that it just needed to be tweaked.  He wrote this with the full knowledge that Tom had “some success” with o2 vector doping in the past.

Same with Ryder.  He goes onto forums and tries to discredit my credibility by saying how stupid it was for me to imply Ryder should be considered questionable/doping, when he knows full and well that Ryder took drugs earlier in his career to get to the point of winning the Giro. He has no problem letting the cycling media, and us, use Ryder as an example as how the sport is so clean now, clean enough to win Grand Tours clean, even though his knows it to be false.

I’m not sure it is exactly lying.  It would probably be more accurate described as lying by omission.  Or maybe misdirection.  I’m not exactly sure that is best to describe it other than it was and is wrong.

It you want an example of a clean team, a really clean team, the maybe look at Optum.  Here is an article on them by the  In this article, Charles Aaron and Jonas Carney give their views and actions concerning doping in the sport.  They walk the walk, not  just talk the talk. (And let’s not get into a Zirbel discussion in the comment section.)  These guys don’t have anywhere near the voice of Jonathan, but they are definitely practicing what they preach.

I do agree with the original Velonews article that the sport is better off with Jonathan around.  I just wish he would be more honest in his actions.  Credibility is defined as the quality of being trusted and believed in.  When you release information, for your benefit, when you chose, for damage control, then the credibility is lessened.  We don’t need the spokesman for clean cycling, worldwide, to lack it.

I got this photo from an employee at Garmin.  He said - It's actually a Team Garmin water bottle from a year or two ago. I work at Garmin. The team rolls through after the Tour of Colorado and rides with us. We all get these cool, but factually incorrect, water bottles and stuff like that.

I got this photo from an employee at Garmin. He said – It’s actually a Team Garmin water bottle from a year or two ago. I work at Garmin. The team rolls through after the Tour of Colorado and rides with us. We all get these cool, but factually incorrect, water bottles and stuff like that.


Here's Tom doing some physiological testing before the Tour in 2013.

Here’s Tom doing some physiological testing before the Tour in 2013.


And Jonathan testing out the ergometer.

And Jonathan testing out the ergometer.




40 thoughts on “Jonathan Vaughters – Credible or Not?

  1. El Jabón

    I think I understand your point. I think you are correct to be critical. But hey, can’t we just applaud Vaughters and co. for having tried? I mean it was a good marketing scheme, and a good way to get good riders on the cheap (ex-dopers), but still, wasn’t and isn’t it still a good thing (albeit imperfect thing) they are trying to promote? I dig it.
    This is pro-sports, cheating will be around until the end of time as with everything else. The best we can do is ask for is an acceptable limit! At least riders aren’t beating their wives! With Joe Dombrowksi’s recent win, I think we can be pretty darn proud of the sport’s (and Garmin’s) progression. No?

  2. Old friend

    There’s no doubt Jonathan’s intentions are very good. He truly believes in his clean mission. In hindsight he’s probably realizing now that dopers are people who have a propensity to cheat, period. My guess is these dopers probably cheated on there 3rd grade math tests. It’s in there personality and genetic make up. Just like guess who rob banks, they probably started off stealing purses. I think Tom Danielsons positive is truly symbolic. Possibly the most important doping positive in the last decade only behind armstrongs fall. I say this because it says so much about the guys still in the sport from the big doping days. It also showed that a new generation young rider can step up and win with guys like Danielson gone. Dombrowskis win shows old era is almost over. Off topic, tillford, can you please comment on the video of Ryder’s bike seamingly riding itself after he crashed. I’ve watched that video dozens of times and oft baffles me and seems to defy physics.

  3. Jim Ochowicz

    Steve, give me a call…ask me anything. I have all the answers about the doping trail that leads right to your doorstep. Cycling is a strange, small and incestuous world in the US

  4. Bill V

    Why don’t we get into a Zirbel discussion? He got caught doping and to get off with a lighter penalty he named names. All of this was kept pretty quiet and he’s still a proud member of the black and orange team. JV must have known something that most others don’t because that fiasco cost Tom the chance at a Garmin contract. How coincidental is it that that his getting busted happened virtually within the same time frame as his contract with Garmin was announced? Did USAC decide enough was enough with Zirbel and knock him down a peg?

  5. Donkybhoy

    Vaughter’s himself doped and cheated. So why does a guy who has the propensinty to cheat and dope get called, ‘a good guy’ for the sport.

    Vaughter’s is all about marketing. Internal testing his riders = lie.

    Vaughters model was expanded upon by sky.

    Plenty of examples, including those above, where Vaughters says stuff that suits his view, but are not based on reality. Anyone remember, “not cool to dope anymore”? “new generation don’t dope”? Froome has “crazy adaptive physiology”?

    Garmin same as any other WT team in the sport of cycling where the UCI are a joke and testing 99.9% of the time is beatable.

    Anyone remember Ryder’s spike in the 3rd week of his Giro win? What did Vaughter’s blame? Machine calibration error! Wiggin’s at TdF’09 same 3rd week spike, same excuse, ‘machine calibration error’!

    Vaughter’s excuse for keeping Tom D, because he testified! Horseshit! He got off a 2 year ban, he got a 6 week winter break for testifying. More Vaughter’s BS.

  6. channel_zero

    One in 10 years.

    How many WT pro positives in the same time period? About the same as the go-go Armstrong era.
    How many head-scratching performances? How much weight has been magically lost by WT riders in the same period with no loss of power?

    There is every reason to believe the UCI is still permitting doping because so little has changed. In this way you cannot blame guys like Danielson. The UCI permits doping, until they suddenly pick one out of the herd.

  7. Matt

    Why is this so difficult.

    If you get caught doping, you get life time ban from pro cycling in any capacity. In addition that team is suspended for rest of season.

    Obviously, the regulatory bodies believe that doped racing is better than non-doped racing. Which is perplexing given that the public believes just the opposite.

  8. Dide

    1) We don’t know Vaughters’ past intentions. Only he does. Stop assuming.

    2) We know that he cheated and lied to be able to keep in company with other cheaters and liars. And he didn’t come clean until the competitive future of several of his riders was protected through a sweetheart deal (IE off-season suspensions).

    3) We know he started a team, and even though the stated purpose of this team was to be “clean”, its ranks were (and are) populated with those who were historically not.

    4) For a guy that supposedly knows his own truth and sleeps well at night, he sure spends a lot of his time trying to “manage” what random strangers think of him and his riders.

  9. Richard Wharton

    Zirbel had a trace positive that arguably came from tainted supplements. He tried for years to prove it to no avail, but there were plenty of trace positives just before and after the 2002 Winter Games with supplement companies (based in Utah I might add), that target endurance athletes including cyclists.

    Tom’s arguing the same thing – tainted supps. Honestly, that is a viable argument. There really are too few controls and regulations on the supplement industry, and it’s too easy to sprinkle pixie dust in something, forget about adding it to the label, and make bango bucks off of it when its’ reputation as a miracle supp grows. The penalty payouts are minimal, and the athletes are disposable. It doesn’t excuse him, but it might provide some context.

    Let’s wait and learn more about the specifics in Danielson’s case, should he choose to reveal them. Otherwise, it’s a star chamber, and there really are no rules.

  10. Jacque

    This story is the same story that has been played out for decades.

    Just because JV says his team his clean and does all the supporting PR interviews and articles and et cetera does not make it true. It’s just hot air and he would do alot for his credibility if he kept quiet and let his riders do the talking with their legs. Sometimes being quiet speaks the loudest. The statement he made about pulling out if one of his riders tested positive was a true bonehead move. Now he looks like a total hypocrite who is nothing more than a money making tool for his sponsors.

    Danielson likely doped from his college days or earlier. Ryder never would have made it to the pros if he hadn’t doped his way to a silver at the MTB Worlds. He screwed every clean MTB rider out of a chance at the big time. I could go down the list, but you get the point.

    There have been countless teams who make all the bold “we’re clean and everyone else is doped” statements. Motorola/US Postal/Discovery/Astana/Trek and Johan Bruyneel come to mind. They fooled the entire world about how clean they were and how dirty the euro teams were. They were all liars and frauds. It’s all been proven in courts and in testimonies.

    Do you think JV was ignorant to facts about the long term benefits of PED’s? If you believe he was aware (of course he is aware), then you have to believe that he knew when he hired ex-dopers, he would still be getting supercharged riders. Maybe he’s not so dumb after all.

  11. David A.

    I could care less if they dope. If one team can afford to provide RV’s for their riders is that an unfair advantage over the teams that can’t? Nothing is fair, and you can never make it that way. You can only hope the athletes play within the rules.

    I read an article in Sports Illustrated many years ago that did an in-depth look at supplement companies. They purposely seed the first batches with PED’s that will increase performance. You tell your friends how great the product is, your friends buy it and the supplement company gains market share. Once the supplement company obtains their goal they remove the performance enhancing drugs.

    When a product is submitted to the FDA they don’t test it for everything known to man. its to expensive. they only test for what the manufacturer puts on the label, that’s it! So the possibility of an athlete having trace amounts of a PED is completely possible.

    The reality of the situation is that it is not controllable, the only people benefiting is the drug testing companies.

  12. Pete

    I’ll leave Zirbel alone but how about Sebastian Salas? Also Optum and also busted. He’s kind of a poor man’s Danielson actually. It bugs me more when a guy with average talent dopes and takes a pro contract from a clean rider. Ryder was always super talented as a Jr and didn’t have to dope to get a pro (mtb) contract. Salas was a known doper in the Vancouver racing community long before his suspension, and had to dope just to get a domestic contract. He was dumb enough to be glowing during BC Superweek and disappeared for hours when he was ‘randomly’ tested. I know Will Routley and others are clean but I thought it was weird how quiet Optum management and riders were with Salas getting popped. Maybe it was team mandated PR or just because he wasn’t a great bike racer, but it gave me an uneasy feeling how it was sort of swept under the rug.

  13. Leatherneck

    Beat me to the Salas positive.

    The team also once employed Justin Spinelli who had admitted to doping. Really, are Optum much different from Garmin? They have exchanged quite a few riders as well. Creed, Friedman, Huff, McGregor, Gaimon, Donald.

  14. Donkybhoy

    1) We don’t know Vaughters’ past intentions. Only he does. Stop assuming.

    You get judged on your words and actions. Assumptions not needed.

    2) We know that he cheated and lied to be able to keep in company with other cheaters and liars. And he didn’t come clean until the competitive future of several of his riders was protected through a sweetheart deal (IE off-season suspensions).

    Vaughters currently runs a WT in a dirty sport. All the other teams are dirty. So according to #2 he also runs a dirty team. That is probably the truth of it. Check out Iñigo San Millán past team history 😉

    3) We know he started a team, and even though the stated purpose of this team was to be “clean”, its ranks were (and are) populated with those who were historically not.

    Vaughters made a big deal that he had internal testing to keep his riders clean. Claimed it cost half a million dollars a year to keep his boys clean. Another lie.

    4) For a guy that supposedly knows his own truth and sleeps well at night, he sure spends a lot of his time trying to “manage” what random strangers think of him and his riders.

    Vaughters is all about message. He gives good media.

  15. JKM

    So you flew out to watch a test you had no idea how it works??????????????????? Why would anyone do that?
    Make no sense..

    Just the continuing house of cards, the call pro road cycling..

    Gets very old.

  16. Robo

    I’m so glad mad you mentioned Optum. I just spent $55 and 8 hours of PTO to spend, the day riding with Phil Gaimon and Brad Huff for “Phil’s Fondo” in Boulder. I literately spent the day staring at Phil and Brads “clean” tattoos. You know what, it meant something to me. I’ve lost interest in the WT because of the sound bite driven spinsters like Vaughters. Phil and Brad are the real deal. And Vaughters, the king of clean, had the audacity to not resign Gaimon. Phil’s writing, humor, social media savvy, and visible commitment to clean racing could have done more for Vaughters’ mission than anything else. I lost all interest in Garmin and the rest of the WT right then and there. Now I’m way more interested in domestic racing than ever before. I know Phil has career and financial goals and all that, but not being re-signed was probably best for him.

    And as for Brad… Dude is a blast to ride a bike with. He finished the ride half naked. But aside from that, he led out every regroup slowly and ensured all were included. And he helped negotiate traffic. He did this not in camp counselor sort of way, but in a way that suggests that he genuinely thinks of others and wants them to enjoy the ride. And he dangled off the back all day – he had no interest in dropping a bunch of weekend warriors just to validate himself.

    This is what cycling needs.

  17. nancy

    Justin was quite honest about his past and not proud of it. he is not involved in pro cycling, not even at grassroot level. He doesn’t marketed himself as proud former doper like Vaughters and the others. Also, he explained why some guys winning NRC races go to Europe and not some others.

    The only time I deal with him was wheel purchase. They were defectuous and once he saw them, he reimbursed me and shipping cost without hesitation. At least, he is honest with customer and nothing to say negative.

  18. Paul Kersey

    Love your blog Steve. Especially the old school racing stories in which a few I can testify for.

    But your contradcitory doping rants make me think you should be in politics. When you point a finger you point three back at you!

    Address the elephant in the room in which a lot of your readers have asked. BMC and and the junk bond car salesman Och. Do you realize a lot of us have respect for you, but your credibility goes out the window when you selectively single out a few. We get it… Lance and Danielson. That horse is dead. Be a real spokesman and call out the rest. Including those in your circle?

    But you won’t and this latest, make me feel better caught doper will be on your blog for weeks. Plus the I told you so’s. Yet your household keeps cashing BMC pay checks.

    Stick to the bike bum stories about training for races and rides. And any other stories about racing. That’s what a lot of us tune in for.

    Let the politicians dole out the manure. Just a thought from a daily observer.

  19. Pepsi Frank

    This is why we need lifetime bans for cheating. That way we wouldn’t be talking about JV or Danielson right now. The sport is not better off for having JV around.

  20. Ken

    I do need to agree with Paul. Say something about BMC – anything. Defend them if you believe they’re worth defending, and tell us why. What about the curious cases of Ballan and Van Avermaet?
    I enjoy reading your blog. I, like Paul, have respect for your views. But the silence on that issue is not serving you well. If you believe BMC is more defensible than those you attack, I’d rather see you address it rather than avoid it.

  21. Mark

    Do WT rider’s actually take “off the shelf” supplements? I would think a team would actually forbid a rider to take supplements on their own. Most of that crap is garbage to begin with. Go away Tommy D(oper).

  22. Jeff D.

    Vaughters does has a doping past, as did most of the the world tour riders in that era. If you kicked everyone out of the sport from that era, I don’t believe there would be much racing going on at the world tour level, due to lack of teams/directors/mechanics. Vaughters perhaps really did start his team with the intention of a “clean racing team” trying to be an example of what a clean team can do, we don’t know for sure, but I’m going to assume the best until proven wrong. Vaughters did sign riders that also had a doping past, giving them a 2nd chance, everyone should get a 2nd chance after serving a sentence for the 1st crime (3rd chance, Nope). Vaughters does not live with his riders so he has to expect them to do the right thing. Some people are just awful, liars, cheats and thieves and don’t/can’t change no matter how much you, I or Vaughters believe they will. I’m pretty sure nobody will be more angry , hurt, or disappointed if Tommy D’s 2nd comes back positive than Vaughters himself for the damage Tommy D has done to the team, hence all the comments “comediming Vaughters, his team and riders.

  23. Jim Ochowicz

    Call me. For the record, I’m a trained financial profession not a junk bond salesman

  24. JB

    Yes, but wouldn’t the illegal PEDs be expensive, compared to the legal supplements? A manufacturer wouldn’t put it in there w/o asking to be paid for it. If it’s truly from a supplement and wasn’t on the label, then I think both the manufacturer and the buyer knew about it.

  25. OGS7619

    “viable argument”? How so? What other arguments are viable – Landis’ Jack Daniels argument? Vanishing twin by Hamilton? Too much sex the night before, CIA spiked my toothpaste, the EPO is for my dog – these all have been tried before (seriously) with varying amount of success.

    I am tired of “tainted supplements” excuses.

    First of all, if all vitamins and scratch had so much artificial testosterone in it, we would see a huge number of positives across many sports at many levels.

    Second, it is athlete’s responsibility for what goes into their body. As a former experienced Doper who avoided detection for decades, Danielson of all people should have known this.

  26. Krakatoa East of Java

    I just don’t know what the hell JV wants from everyone now. Och doesn’t give a fuck what people think of him, and he probably sleeps like a baby. It doesn’t matter what people think. JVs gonna do what he’s gonna do anyway.

  27. jacque

    Ryder admitted to doping in order to win or medal at the MTB World Championships. He already had a pro MTB contract. He was looking for a Po Tour road contract.

    He medalled at the worlds and he got his Pro Tour contract. Both thanks to the benefits of (at least) EPO use.

    He therefore screwed every clean riding ambitious MTB rider in Canada and beyond.

  28. Chris Froome

    Hi Cycling Fans and Mr. Tilford! Chris Froome here, fresh off my new self-appointment as Spokesman For Clean Cycling in the Sky! That’s right- it’s a bit different than actual clean cycling, of course…. Clean Cycling in the Sky is actually how I win the top bike races- its very clean, nearly undetectable, high-level doping with the best methods. As quoted by I’m now on the record trumpeting from the highest Alp how much I believe “some things,” have really changed in the Pro Peleton! That’s right, there’s “24-hour testing,” now! Also they don’t let us use our Super Kustom Team Sky Motor Home (designed for clandestine doping)! So you see- things are real, real different. I remember when the villainous Lance Armstrong used to tout his own pristine purity by way of referring to his never failing any doping tests…. that’s exactly what I’m saying too…. except of course it’s 2015 and I’m clean. Cheers mates!

  29. Jef

    There is always an extraordinary explanation for extraordinary performance that ultimately ends up being an extraordinary cover for doping.


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