A few minutes after the slide show celebrating the season of the 5280 development team, Jonathan Vaughters addressed the small group of attendees at Denver’s Adega restaurant on Sunday evening.
“The 5280 team is the main focus of the evening,” Vaughters said, “but I also have a ‘surprise’ announcement to make … one that most of you already know about, since I’m such a blabbermouth. I’m using tonight to also announce my retirement from professional cycling.”
And at that, the 30-year-old Prime Alliance man put a formal end to his career as a pro.
“I’d really already made the decision this summer,” Vaughters told VeloNews. “It happened when I won Mt. Evans … the first race I’d won as a licensed rider. I thought it would be nice to end it on that note, too.”
While retirement at 30 might be considered early, Vaughters was quick to point out that he’s been at this a long time. “I went to Europe, to race as a pro, when I was 20,” he said. Indeed, Vaughters began his career as an elite cyclist at age 18, riding for the first incarnation of the Saturn squad, the amateur program started by Warren Gibson.
After a short stint with the TCBY team, Vaughters accepted an offer from the Spanish Porcelana Santa Clara team in 1994 and stayed there until the team’s financial collapse in late 1996, just after Vaughters rode in his first grand tour, the ’96 Vuelta.
“And right away I got an offer to come back to the U.S. and ride for Comptel. It was good, because I needed the break,” said Vaughters.
But that break ended after a year when U.S. Postal signed Vaughters for the 1998 season. Sent back to Spain, Vaughters was named to the team’s Tour de France squad, but a crash just a week before the start kept him off of the roster.
Despite the setback, Vaughters’ career started to come together. Vaughters performed consistently strong at the Dauphiné Libéré, winning stages in 1999, 2000 and 2001, even establishing the record in an individual time trial up the slopes of Mt. Ventoux.
After a strong Dauphiné performance in 1999, Vaughters was set for what many believed would be a great Tour de France debut. Instead, it was the beginning of a sometimes-frustrating relationship with the world’s greatest bike race. Named to Postal’s Tour teams in 1999 and 2000, Vaughters crashed out of both races.
Riding for Crédit Agricole in 2001, the squad celebrated a breakthrough victory in the team time trial, and Vaughters seemed a certainty to make to Paris – until just a few days before the finish, when he was forced to withdraw due to a severe reaction to a wasp sting. Another crash would take him out of his final Tour appearance in 2002.
Remarkably, Vaughters notes that it wasn’t his Tour experiences, but rather the Ventoux record at the Dauphiné that “probably began the end of my career as a rider… I think at that point I proved to myself what I could do and I already started thinking about life after cycling. I just thought: ‘Great! Okay, now what?’”
Nonetheless, Vaughters said he probably most enjoyed those years – 1999 and 2000 – because he was “always a factor in races throughout the season. I knew what it felt like to be a serious contender, and it was great.”
At the end of 2001, Vaughters renewed his contract with Crédit Agricole, signing a two-year agreement with the team.
“But inside, I think I was ready to go home,” he said. And following another early departure from the Tour, he announced plans to leave the team and spend the next year racing in the U.S. For some the decision to abandon life in the European peloton was a surprise, though the astute observer might have been clued into Vaughters’ perspective on life as a Euro’ pro by reading his first VeloNews.com Tour Diary that year (see “The Tour de France SUCKS!”).
“It was the best thing I could have done,” he said. “I came back, spent a year racing with Prime Alliance and rediscovered the joy of racing a bike again … and now I am ready to really call it quits.”
Vaughters said he will continue his involvement in the 5280 team, an amateur squad of under-23 riders financed by the Denver-based 5280 magazine and re-energized with support for 2004 from the financial services firm TIAA-CREF and additional support from Greg LeMond.
For the foreseeable future, Vaughters said he will be “working on several marketing projects for TIAA-CREF.”
“For one thing, I want them to really benefit from their relationship with the team, so I want to do my best that they get a good return on their investment,” he said.
Beyond that, he said he might eventually return to school to “finish up those last eight hours I need” to earn his bachelor’s degree.
“Either way, I’ll keep riding,” Vaughters said. “I enjoy it even more now that I don’t have to be doing it.”
Vaughters said he might even take on Mt. Evans again in the near future.
“Yeah, as some sort of fund-raiser for the race, I’m think of seeing if I can do it with (3-year-old son) Charlie in a Burley in under three hours,” Vaughters said. “In fact, maybe we can start a whole new category for that.”
We can already tell. It’s going to be an interesting retirement.
Turned professional in 1994
Porcelana Santa Clara (1994-96)
Taya Chain-Plymouth (in U.S., 1995)
U.S. Postal Service (1998-99),
Crédit Agricole (2000-2002)
Prime Alliance (2003)
* 1st, team time trial stage, Tour de France, 2001
* 1st, Mt. Ventoux TT, Dauphiné Libéré, 1999
* 1st overall, Route du Sud, 1999
* 2nd overall, Dauphiné Libéré, 1999
* 3rd overall, Mediterranean Tour, 2000
* 5th overall, Dauphiné Libéré, 2000
* 1st, Saturn Cycling Classic, 2001
* 1st, Celestial Seasonings Classic, 1999
* 1st, Redlands Classic, 1998
* 7th, world championships time trial, 1998
Mt. Evans (CO), 1st
Mt. Evans (CO), 2nd
Saturn Cycling Classic (CO), 6th
Dauphiné Libéré (France), 7th, stage 3 TT
Dauphiné Libéré (France), 25th overall
Route du Sud (France), 35th overall
Etoile de Bessèges (France), 76th overall
Dauphiné Libéré (France), 1st, stage 4 TT
Tour de France, 1st, stage 5 TTT
Saturn Cycling Classic (CO), 1st
Duo Normand TTT (France), 1st (with Jens Voigt)
Cascade Classic (OR), stage 2 TT, 1st
Eddy Merckx GP TTT (Belgium), 5th (with Bobby Julich)
Tour of Catalonia (Spain), 12th overall
Grand Prix des Nations TT (France), 15th
Midi Libre (France), 16th overall
World Road Cycling Championships (Lisbon, Portugal), 36th in TT
Mediterranean Tour (France), 3rd overall
Midi Libre (France), stage 4 TT, 2nd
Rut du Sud (France), 5th overall
Dauphine Libéré (France), 4th, Mt. Ventoux stage; 5thoverall
Paris-Nice (France), 6th overall
Critérium International (France), 6th overall
Circuit de la Sarthe (France), 15th overall
Grand Prix Midi Libre (France), 29th overall
Route du Sud (France), 1st overall
Dauphiné Libéré (France), stage 3 TT (Mt. Ventoux),1st; 2nd overall
Tour of the Netherlands, TT stage 4 TT, 3rd; 44th overall
Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger Classic (CO), 1st, plus two stage wins
Redlands Classic (CA), 4thd overall, one stage win
Prutour (Great Britain), 7th overall
Killington (VT) Stage Race, 16th overall
Tour de l’Oise (France), 56th overall
World Road Championships (Valkenburg, The Netherlands), 7th in TT
Redlands Classic (CA) 1st overall, plus two stage wins
Valley of the Sun (AZ), 2nd overall, plus one stage win
Circuit de la Sarthe (France), 6th overall
Colorado Cyclist Weekend, 6th overall
Prutour (Great Britain), 15th overall
Critérium Internationale (France), 24th overall
Tour of the Netherlands, 51st overall
Vuelta a España, 107th
World Road Championships (San Sebastian, Spain): 15th in TT
Fresca National Road Championships (Altoona, PA), 1st in TT
CoreStates USPRO Championship (Philadelphia), 10th
Grand Prix de Beauce (Canada): 1st overall, plus two stage wins
Cascade Cycling Classic (OR): 1st overall
89er Stage Race (OK): 1st overall
Mt. Evans Bob Cook Memorial Hill Climb (CO): 1st
CoreStates Invitational (Lancaster, PA): 3rd
Sequoia Classic (Visalia, CA): 3rd, Exeter Road Race
Redlands Classic (CA), 5th overall, plus one stage win
Mike Nields Memorial Bannock Criterium: 5th
Killington Stage Race (VT): 8th overall
Wine Country Classic (CA), 10th, Graton Road Race
Thrift Drug Classic (Pittsburgh, PA), 12th
USPRO Tour: 3rd
USCF National Racing Calendar Standings: 1st
Tour DuPont (USA), 16th overall
Iron Horse Classic (Durango, CO), 1st
Vuelta de los Puertos (Spain), 6th
Setmana Catalana (Spain), 48th overall
Tour of the Gila (NM), 1st overall, plus one stage win
Mount Evans Hill Climb (CO), 2nd
Mike Nields Memorial (Fort Collins, CO), 2nd overall
Nederland Open (CO), 1st
Casper Classic (Wy), 6th overall
Killington Stage Race (VT), 9th overall