USA Pro Challenge: Garmin’s Danielson and Vaughters say doping is in the rearview
VAIL — Last September, Garmin-Sharp bike racing team member Tom Danielson was facing the beginning of a six-month suspension for admitting to doping while he was part of Lance Armstrong’s Discovery Channel team prior to 2007.
He and fellow Garmin-Sharp teammates Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie — also former Armstrong teammates — were among a number of riders who gave statements in the now infamous U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report on Lance Armstrong. Vande Velde and Zabriskie were also suspended.
It was what the riders hope will be the last chapter in pro cycling’s troubled past.
But for Danielson, that book was closed in 2008 when he joined Jonathan Vaughters’ Boulder-based Slipstream — now Garmin-Sharp — team. Vaughters, a former pro and an Armstrong teammate who admitted to doping, started Slipstream with team chairman Doug Ellis with the intention of fixing pro cycling.
“They pioneered the movement to clean up the sport,” Neal Rogers, editor and longtime cycling reporter for Velonews told the Summit Daily.
“Jonathan is a visionary,” Danielson said.
The team led the way by implementing self-imposed weekly anti-doping testing, and programs that have since been adopted by the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale).
Danielson jumped at the opportunity to race clean, and be at the forefront of promoting clean cycling.
He called Vaughters’ team a “safe house” for riders in a sport where doping had become the norm.
“It was a different game and a different atmosphere,” he said of the years prior to joining what is now Garmin-Sharp. “It (doping) was just an accepted part of the culture.”
Vaughters echoed the sentiment. “When I was racing, doping was the de facto practice, that was accepted in the culture.”
Danielson spoke candidly about the troubles that he went through personally and the pressure to dope.
“I felt that that’s what I needed to do to perform. It was everywhere.”
It was a choice that he acknowledged as a “horrible decision,” and one he suffered for.
“I resented my sport. I resented myself. Everything changes.”
He said it got to a point where he suffered so much anxiety about it, the risks and the possibility of being caught, that it negatively affected his performance and his health.
“When Garmin gave me the opportunity to not do that, it was the best thing that ever happened in my career,” he said.
Now he welcomes the opportunity to educate a younger generation of cyclists, and promote what’s great about cycling.
“I’m thankful to be a part of changing the sport,” he said.
“As a person I feel a lot more satisfied with myself,” he said. “Now everything’s out there, people know the mistakes I’ve made.”
He went on to say, “I really wish I hadn’t made the mistakes I made.”
But those mistakes have also given him the voice of experience. “It means something more. You can talk about the problems you had and how it made you miserable. People take it to heart.”
Vaughters spoke to how far testing has come.
For the Pro Challenge, for example, each day the stage winner, the G.C. leader and at least two riders are tested immediately after the finish of the day’s stage. UCI also now tests more between races.
As to the new culture of cycling, “I’ve definitely had my best results on this side of the fence,” Danielson said. Those results include an eighth-place finish in the Tour de France a few years ago.