VN Archives: Jonathan Vaughters – What can we believe?

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Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of VeloNews.

Former pro and team manager Jonathan Vaughters shared his perspective on the fallout from the USADA affair, and why he insisted fans and the media still have reason to believe in cycling.

Despite the revelations of illicit practices and egregious cheating that surfaced in USADA’s sprawling reasoned decision, Vaughters insisted that the future of cycling then had very little to do with its controversial past.

Why anyone should believe anything they can’t see or touch is a question that goes well beyond doping issues in cycling.

Questions of creed and faith have existed for as long as civilization has existed; wars have broken out over such personal beliefs. So rather than wasting your time asking you to believe that cycling has finally turned its back on doping, I’m just going to lay out the raw facts and figures, and let you decide what your belief is – or not.

I’ll spare you the immediately suspicious statistics in the face of recent revelations. I am well aware that even if less than one percent of doping tests are positive, it is not a convincing argument that doping has stopped.

Instead, what I will present are the simple facts of speed, time, and Newton counters, and how these demonstrate certain trends in modern racing, and what those trends mean. To examine physiological trends in professional cycling, the first thing we need to find is an environment that allows for an “apples to apples” comparison over time. Average speeds for full races do not allow this, as too many variables exist, such as road surface and weather conditions.

Also, I would argue that most cycling events held on flat roads don’t allow for very viable statistical analysis – because wind resistance is the biggest barrier, small changes in aerodynamics or changes in the equipment can dramatically change average times and speeds from year to year. year round.

Instead, we need to find an environment that allows basic math to determine what’s going on physiologically with athletes. A steep, extended climb is the perfect environment for this, because friction, aerodynamics, and rolling resistance can be normalized, within a margin of error, so we can relate changes over time to actual changes in physiology. It is also useful that professional cycling has an excellent database of historically significant climbs to compare performance over the years.

And while I won’t say that every individual calculation is error free, I will say that if you look at the big picture, the weight of the stats and trends in the race as a whole eclipses any small error in an individual’s performance. .

What do these statistics show? There are three major metrics I’m going to look at – average rate of climb, total time and power output – on both L’Alpe d’Huez and the Plateau de Beille. Next, we’ll see the overall escalation rates in the big towers. The identifiable differences calculated before the February 2008 introduction of the biological passport and after its introduction are staggering.

The drop in the fastest average times of these climbs is around 10%. When looking at the decline in the overall average escalation rates of large towers, we see a decline of around 6%. Although there are exceptions to this decline, the overall data is very compelling. Climb times on major climbs are significantly slower than before the bio passport. There is no other explanation for this than the fact that somehow the best runners deliver a smaller amount of oxygen to their muscles.

They can’t maintain the climbing speeds of 10 years ago. When these data are correlated with the average 10% drop in hemoglobin levels (the oxygen-carrying component of red blood cells) from 1997 to 2010 – reported by UCI Medical Director Mario Zorzoli – a clear pattern begins to emerge. form. Considering that oxygen vector doping is generally thought to result in a 6-10% power gain, I find it more than coincidental that the drop in rise rates/times almost exactly matches the drop in red blood cell counts in the best runners.

I think the conclusion is pretty obvious. Instead of ranting about how holistic “new age” cycling is and how the culture of the peloton has changed, I’ll just let the numbers speak for themselves.

Maybe the cycling culture has changed, but it’s still an unforgiving professional sport for highly ambitious and hardened individuals. Instead of trying to prove that human nature has really evolved, I’m going to rely on math. The math says one thing and only one: cycling has cleaned up. Now let’s work on keeping it that way.

About Juana Jackson

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