Three Tours. Two crashes. One wasp sting. No finishes. That is Jonathan Vaughters’s depressing Tour de France track record after withdrew from the 2001 Tour de France on Tuesday. But even more depressing, or frustrating to Vaughters, was that his dream of finishing was ended as much by an arbitrary UCI regulation as it was by his allergic reaction to that wasp sting.
Vaughters was stung just above the right eye during a team training ride on Monday. When he got back to the Crédit Agricole hotel in Pau, the team took him to a local hospital for treatment. There, just to be perfectly clear on the situation, a doctor contacted the UCI, which said that Vaughters could not be treated with cortisone to reduce the swelling.
“The doctor at the hospital called the head of the UCI medical commission in Lausanne, (Switzerland), and the head of the UCI medical commission said absolutely not, it was not authorized, period, amen,” Vaughters said on Tuesday.
Vaughters and his team were told that because the treatment would involve either an intramuscular or intravenous injection of cortisone, it was not authorized by UCI rules. “I don’t see the difference between this and tendinitis. If you have a little tendinitis you can take cortisone. But with this, you can’t,” Vaughters said. “Okay, it’s different between cortisone that’s injected right into the knee, and a general cortisone that’s injected intramuscularly, yeah, there is a difference there, but I’m not gonna win the Tour de France just because I took cortisone so that my face doesn’t look like a basketball.”
On Tuesday, before the start of Stage 15 in Pau, the right side of Vaughters’s face was swollen, and his right eye was swollen completely shut. And he knew that his Tour was just about over. “My choices are, simply that I race like this, you know, potentially cause a crash, whatever else, without having any depth perception in one eye. Or, I stop the race and take the cortisone and [the swelling] goes down normally, but obviously I can’t finish my first Tour de France. Or the third option is to go ahead and take the cortisone and to have [the swelling] go down and then be positive if I get a random [drug] control at the finish. So what do you choose? The six-month suspension? Not finishing the Tour de France, which I desperately wanted to finish, essentially?”
Vaughters did start the stage, but as soon as the pace began to pick up in the first 4km of the race, he knew he was done. “They started going fast, it started going technical and I couldn’t see out of one eye.”
He dropped off the back of the peloton, and shortly after he pulled to the side of the road and got into the team car for the long ride to the finish. After pulling out, he did receive the needed cortisone injection, and by the time he reached Pau, things had already started to clear up.
“I can now, because I’ve taken this marvelous, performance-enhancing and extremely illegal medication that, you know, allowed me to see out of my right eye,” he said. “It’s gone down a lot. It’ll be fine by tomorrow.”
For Vaughters, his emotions on the day were mainly of frustration. “Last year, I was just really sad,” he said. “This year, it’s just like, well, what can I do?”
Ironically, Vaughters withdrawal came a day after Lance Armstrong was bombarded by doping questions at his press conference on the rest day in Pau. “Obviously it’s the UCI’s fault, but also, it’s the press, it’s the people, its the media, it’s the public in France, it’s the public in Europe,”Vaughters said. “Everyone in cycling has become absolutely obsessed with doping, and so it forces the strictness of the regulations to become, not necessarily objective.
“It needs to calm down. People need to stop thinking that that’s the only thing that’s going on in the race, and then forcing the governing bodies and forcing the teams to get so overly nervous that they have to adopt ridiculously strict policies.”