Colorado Cyclist Jonathan Vaughters dishes on The Armstrong Lie, doping and Lance
Few people can claim to know Lance Armstrong in the same way as Jonathan Vaughters, a cyclist and native Coloradan who became Armstrong's friend, teammate -- and eventually, his enemy. Now, the CEO of Slipstream Sports is featured in a documentary called The Armstrong Lie, which is scheduled to open in Denver on December 13 and in Boulder next month (although the opening dates have already been pushed back several times). The film's director, Alex Gibney (We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks) had followed Armstrong during his unsuccessful 2009 Tour de France attempt, hoping to capture a second return to glory for the sport's most popular personality. Armstrong didn't win, and the film -- as originally conceived -- wasn't made.
Photo by Frank Levasseur, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
But in the wake of Armstrong's confessions of doping during his cycling career, and the International Cycling Union's decision to strip him of his seven Tour de France titles, Gibney returned to Armstrong to get the truth -- and paint a portrait of the man along the way.
Photo by Maryse Alberti, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics Jonathan Vaughters in "The Armstrong Lie."
Vaughters was top on his list of interviews. A vocal anti-doper when the sentiment wasn't much appreciated in the cycling community, Vaughters's team is now one of the most successful in the sport - -though not one without its own doping allegations.
Westword caught up with Vaughters to ask him about the Armstrong lies, what's makes Colorado special and what it feels like to dope.
Westword: You've raced all around the world. What's unique about the racing scene in Colorado?
Jonathan Vaughters: Back when I started out, it was really vibrant grassroots racing. It still is, actually, just now we have international events here, too. It was a great place to fall in love with the sport. The old saying goes, 'Trying to make it as a cyclist in Colorado is like trying to make it as an actor in Hollywood.' The level of the average amateur racer here is incredibly high. If you end up being one of the best guys here, you've got a good shot on the real stage.
What goes into managing a cycling team?
Just to give you the scope of it, the annual budget runs about $25 million dollars a year, we typically are functioning in three different time zones at once, and we race 250 days a year...We have everything from coaches to bus drivers to chiropractors to physical therapists. And I'm supposed to keep track of all that.
When you were racing, what was your relationship with Lance Armstrong like?
I met him when I was 15 and he was 17, in one of the first road races that he ever did. It's funny, we started off kind of rocky, because I actually beat him in that race. He was really upset about that. He was always an incredibly fierce competitor. The we became friends -- to a certain degree, then teammates. Then after we were teammates we weren't on such good terms. A lot of differences in philosophies and personalities.
So when you saw the now-infamous Oprah interview, what was running through your mind?
Well, I lived it, I knew that story before it was revealed. It was unusual seeing him be that forthright about all those events, because it has been so many years of very emphatic denials and legal actions, going after people who were questioning him, and so on. It was unusual seeing him reveal the truth in that way. But the content of it was very much known to me. Had been for along time.
You had seen this firsthand.
I was on his team. Doping was part of that operation, period. We did the same races together, and we did the same doping together.
What's it like taking EPO? (Erythropoietin, a blood doping agent)
I say this in the movie, it's a very subtle effect on your body. if you're trying to run two miles as fast as you can, there's this point where things aren't working anymore. Your muscles are burning, you feel like you have to slow down in order to keep up with your breath. That point of fatigue is delayed by a minute, two minutes. Just a little bit. But when you're dealing with the world's most talented athletes, that have all trained to an incredibly high level, who have been selected in this Darwinian way -- the margins are so small that that subtle difference makes a big difference.
In the film, everyone talks about this omerta, this code of silence. You had to work under that, as well.
Of course. The entire sport was basically carrying an enormous secret. He was obviously the most high-profile person who was carrying that secret.