Former cyclists discuss doping

Prominent cyclists and anti-doping regulators addressed the frequent abuse of performance-enhancing drugs at a Thursday panel.
Prominent cyclists and anti-doping regulators addressed the frequent abuse of performance-enhancing drugs at a Thursday panel. Photo by Kathryn Crandall.

Professional cycling athletes, former adversaries and regulators gathered Thursday evening to discuss the role of performance-enhancing drugs in the midst of a sport in turmoil.

The panel, which drew a crowd of roughly 150 people, featured Floyd Landis, who won the 2006 Tour de France but was eventually stripped of his title for doping; Travis Tygart, CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency; Jonathan Vaughters, team manager of the Garmin-Sharp cycling team who formerly took performance-enhancing drugs; and professor Thomas Murray, president emeritus of the Hastings Center. During the talk, the panelists explained the ways doping became prevalent in the sport and touched on the future of drug usage in cycling.

“At the highest level, it was obligatory to use drugs,” Vaughters said. “We need to change the way this sport is.”

Landis and Vaughters, both former professional cyclists who used performance-enhancing substances, now speak out against doping in cycling. In January, well-known cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to doping during each of his seven Tour de France victories, which were stripped last year, and he was handed a lifetime ban from the sport.  The panel marked Landis’ first public appearance after accusing Armstrong of doping in 2010.

Vaughters now manages a team that supports and practices clean racing, he said, adding that he thinks riders artificially enhance their performance because of their “ambitious and driven” nature.

Athletes feel they continually need to use an increasing amount of performance-enhancing drugs just to stay competitive, Murray said.

“It’s like an arms race,” he said.

Tygart, who led the recent doping charges against Lance Armstrong, said to protect clean athletes, the USADA had “to dismantle the system that allowed this culture to flourish.” He suggested that removing drug usage from cycling requires increasing the funding that goes toward independent anti-doping agencies and developing a commission that encourages past users to be honest about their activities so the sport maintains a policy of transparency.

Once adversaries, Tygart and Landis have now become allies in the effort against doping, said professor Jacob Hacker, director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies, who moderated the panel.

Audience members interviewed said they enjoyed hearing a candid conversation about what some consider a sensitive subject.

Will Gardner ’15 said the discussion was positive because acknowledging doping usage will help make the sport clean.

“I think it was good getting this into the open,” Gardner said.

Michael Reagan, coordinator of the Cycling Tour of Connecticut, said the talk was “absolutely fantastic” because the panelists appeared honest and open.

Spencer Gilbert LAW ’13 said he does not think the talk included information that he had not heard before.

Landis served on the U.S. Postal Service cycling team from 2002 to 2004, and Vaughters was on it from 1998 to 1999.

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