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All Cleaned Up

Jonathan Vaughters, head of the Garmin-Chipotle cycling team, is hoping his U.S.-heavy team can recapture the attention of American cycling fans.

June 29, 2008|From the Associated Press

Jonathan Vaughters is a fairly sophisticated fellow -- the kind of guy who can drop phrases such as "interpretive parallel" into casual conversation.

Perhaps that's to be expected from a Colorado kid who spent his 20s racing bicycles in Europe and now holds the haughty title of director sportif for a cycling team.

But when asked to describe his team's anti-doping philosophy, Vaughters sees no need to complicate things.

"I don't know," Vaughters said. "To not dope?"

Given cycling's recent string of scandals, that qualifies as a revolutionary approach.

The Garmin-Chipotle team -- which had been known as Slipstream until officials finalized a corporate sponsorship deal last week -- is hammering home a strong anti-doping message as riders clad in the team's signature argyle jerseys hammer out miles on the roads of Europe.

And the team is backing up its message with an independent drug-testing program for its riders.

Vaughters hopes the up-and-coming team, which will race in its first Tour de France beginning July 5, can recapture the attention of American cycling fans who lost interest after Lance Armstrong retired or were turned off by the drug scandals that have overshadowed the tour in recent years.

Garmin-Chipotle is based in the U.S. and will feature three American riders in the tour: Christian Vande Velde, Will Frischkorn and Danny Pate. Another American rider, David Zabriskie, likely would have made the squad but is recovering after fracturing a vertebra in a fall at the Giro d'Italia in May.

Is the team hoping to win over American fans in a post-Lance world?

"Of course!" Vaughters said.

But he said simply trotting out a few American riders won't get them there. Neither, for that matter, will winning. To attract and retain fans, Vaughters says the team has to be clean and transparent.

In addition to the testing required of any pro rider, Garmin-Chipotle uses the California-based Agency for Cycling Ethics to test riders for so-called "biomarkers" -- physiological changes that raise a red flag about a rider's potential use of performance-enhancing drugs. The agency also is being used by another high-profile squad with an anti-doping message, Team Columbia.

Could denouncing doping become cycling's new yellow wristband?

"I think it's spreading pretty quickly," Vaughters said. "For sure, we were one of the first -- if not the first -- to embrace it. But it's spreading."

Garmin-Chipotle rider David Millar says the fact that the team's anti-doping stance is seen as being a big deal speaks volumes about the sport's ugly recent history.

"I think it's quite sad that taking that stance is such a story," Millar said. "It shouldn't be."

Millar understands cycling's dark side as well as anyone. He was banned for two years and stripped of his 2003 world time-trial title after admitting to using the banned blood-boosting drug EPO in 2004.

The Scottish rider said doping was "omnipresent" when he came into pro cycling in the late 1990s. His jaw dropped when he saw riders carrying around little flasks that he knew contained EPO.

"It was like this deep, dark secret that everybody knew about, but nobody outside did," Millar said.

Then Millar said he was taken aside and told how it worked.

"I remember a great champion telling me that you couldn't win races without EPO," Millar said. "I was 19 years old. I'm like, 'That's great.'"

Vaughters -- who has strongly hinted in previous interviews that he doped during his own cycling career -- said teams generally haven't discouraged doping.

"In sort of the old days of cycling, the message was, 'Your job is to win races. However you do that, we don't care,'" Vaughters said.

Now Vaughters has given Millar a second chance, and Millar is determined not to squander it.

"For me, it's kind of full circle in a way," Millar said. "It's not a position I could have imagined five years ago, when all the [stuff] went down."

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