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Vaughters: Anti-doping testing is imperfect

Jonathan Vaughters calls for observers to take a nuanced view of the imperfections in the current state of anti-doping in cycling.

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As Chris Froome’s salbutamol case was unexpectedly resolved on Monday, the announcement drew opinions from across the world of cycling. Chris Froome, Team Sky, and their fans lauded the news. Others were critical of the decision, its timing, its messaging, or all of the above.

Jonathan Vaughters called for observers to take a nuanced view of the circumstances — and that may mean coming to terms with the imperfections of the current state of anti-doping in sport.

“For people to think that doping testing is black and white, positive and negative, over the threshold and under the threshold, I’m here to tell you it is far more complicated and nuanced than that,” the EF Education First-Drapac CEO told VeloNews in a phone interview Tuesday.

“[These tests] are not black-and-white at all. They require a certain degree of thought and subjectivity in order to analyze them correctly. That takes time and it takes a process. We didn’t let that process happen. We just jumped to a judgment.”

Vaughters, a former rider who admitted to doping during his career, has been a vocal supporter of clean cycling since his retirement from racing. While Froome’s case remained unresolved, Vaughters was of the opinion that he should have recused himself from racing, while also recognizing his legal right to continue.

The UCI and WADA have since reasoned that sufficient uncertainty exists surrounding the amount of Salbutamol Froome ingested at the 2017 Vuelta a España to clear him of any doping infractions. With Froome now set to race the Tour de France without any further investigation hanging over his head, Vaughters continues to see two sides of the equation.

“On one hand, I’m really kind of upset at the way everyone’s really treated this situation and judged it without letting it go through the process first. I think it’s a lesson to everybody to not jump to conclusions without allowing the athlete to exercise their right to defend themselves,” he said.

Vaughters emphasized the uncertainty surrounding Froome’s case when it was leaked to media last fall, before any definitive determination had been made regarding the nature of his Salbutamol test results.

On the other hand, Vaughters says the skepticism Team Sky has faced from frustrated fans and media members is largely rooted in the way the team has handled a turbulent last two years.

“I think Sky has been so arrogant, so cold and so brazen, and has thrown up so much smoke and opaqueness regarding the jiffy bag thing, the Dr. Freeman thing, Shane Sutton, cortisone, and on and on and on, that essentially, of course, no one trusted them when this came up,” Vaughters said. “I’m sorry but there’s no one to blame there except Sky.”

“I think a little more straightforward honesty going forward would suit their communications.”

Vaughters preferred not to make any sweeping judgments about the validity of the UCI’s decision itself, having not poured over the documentation released this week by the various stakeholders. He did, however, lend his support to the notion that testing was not as clearcut as most would like.

“Most anti-doping testing is imperfect. There are false negatives. There are false positives. Both of those things happen all the time,” Vaughters contended.

At the same time, he echoed a criticism many have leveled at anti-doping authorities in the wake of Froome’s case.

“What I gnash my teeth about a little bit is what about the innocent guy, the truly innocent guy that gets a Salbutamol positive, that doesn’t have millions of dollars to spend on attorneys? What does that guy do?” Vaughters said. “It would be tragic if money was the only thing that solved this sort of thing.”

Whatever the circumstances of his long and winding road to the Tour start line, Froome will indeed be in the hunt for a fifth career yellow jersey this July.

Vaughters said he wasn’t sure whether Froome’s presence — and the more controlled race it will likely bring about — would be a boon or an added obstacle for his team’s star, Rigoberto Urán, who finished as runner-up to Froome at last year’s Tour.

Vaughters did, however, note that at least in one way, he and his team will be happy to have a chance to square off against Froome this summer.

“No rider anywhere any time wants to win races because the best guys weren’t there,” Vaughters said. “That’s just the way athletes think.”

Urán and his EF teammates will have their chance to improve on last year’s second overall finish soon. The Tour gets underway Saturday in Noirmoutier-en-l’Île.