one way ticket - nine lives on two wheels. jonathan vaughters. quercus hardback. 369pp illus. £20

one way ticket - jonathan vaughters

i may have used the following analogy on a previous occasion, but since i feel it directly pertinent to that which follows, i hope you'll bear with me if you've heard it before.

let's assume you have successfully applied for a job as a salesperson, visiting clients within a specific region, in order to interest them in a particular range of products. at the end of your first year in the job, you've been particularly successful and your employers have recommended that you apply for the job of sales manager. there is, however, a caveat attached to that recommendation. it transpires that the company's bottom line is substantially augmented by 'under the counter' sales of recreational drugs which you would be expected also to oversee, if your application for the post of sales manager is successful.

as an upstanding, moralistic member of the community, these additional duties are somewhat abhorrent, but refusing to take them on will either entail remaining in your current, lowly-paid position, or possibly even result in you being found 'surplus to requirements'. this is made even harder to accept when you see other sales persons who have been considerably less successful than yourself during that first year, moving further up the corporate ladder, fêted by senior management and in receipt of a remuneration package of which you are extremely envious.

you have the same bills as everyone else, a mortgage and sales skills at which you have worked particularly hard to get to where you are today. so what do you do?

that is the predicament in which a young jonathan vaughters found himelf, but with complications scarcely thought of by the hypothetical sales department alluded to above. 'one way ticket' is his literary catharsis, detailing the early years of a cycling-obsessed american youngster and the conundrum provided by his first steps into the european professional milieu.

vaughters grew up in colorado, the son of an attorney and a teacher of kids with disabilities who were perhaps not entirely enthused by their son's velocipedinal tendencies. however, like good parents, they seemed willing to support their son's ambitions, to the extent of dad vaughters driving an ageing volvo 'station wagon' ahead of a frantically speeding jonathan to offer the aspiring professional some much-needed motor-pacing. but far from an uncle sam and mom's apple pie prelude, ultimately leading to less than savoury tales from the peloton, vaughters introduces the subject of doping as early as page five.

"Clad in US Postal Service team kit and fresh from conquering Mont Ventoux in the south of France, I was clearly much stronger than I'd been as a twerpy eighteen-year-old. But by 1999, I'd also got up to quite a bit of doping."

vaughters has chosen to divide his biography into clearly marked, chronological divisions, beginning with 1986 - 1988 and ending with 2010 - 2019, ending with an epilogue to balance the opening prologue (what else, in a book about cycling?)

'one way ticket' was edited, prompted and cajoled by noted cycling author, jeremy whittle, who has made such an excellent job, that the sole voice of vaughters has been provided with the clarity it richly deserves. the difficult decision' outlined in my opening paragraphs arrived with vaughters' initiation into the life of a european professional. victories and commendable placings had not been hard to come by in north america, leading to the next obvious step up for the obsessed young cyclist.

contacted by a spanish team manager, josé luis nuñez about the possibility of riding for his spanish junior team, subsequent medical tests showed the young vaughters to have a constitution particularly well suited to that of a top cyclist. the potential junior contract was almost immediately upgraded to that of a full professional, an unexpectedly welcome turn of events for the young american. the team was comprised of both spanish and russian cyclists, the latter due to fifty percent of the sponsorship monies arriving from the soviets. for the russians, racing in europe offered, potentially, escape from a much harder life at home, an opportunity of which they were going to make the most.

"Drinking too much from your water bottle was considered weakness. Shifting into the small chain ring was also considered weakness. Eating food was considered gluttonous. The Russians, I discovered, did not fuck around."

vaughters' transition to the professional ranks was, however, far from smooth. eager to repeat his north american successes and inherit his aspirations, he found himself relegated to those who scarcely made the time-cut. how could those impressive vo2 max and haemaglobina figures have resulted in such derisory, non-existent results?

the question is, of course, rhetorical. in 2019, we all know perfectly well how this situation arose. to make matters 'worse', josé luis nuñez' team was operated on behalf of opus dei, a religious organisation, linked to the vatican. rather obviously, their moral and religious obligations precluded any dalliance with performance enhancing drugs, itself a euphemism for 'epo'. vaughters, while initially happy to go along with this philosophy, eventually became disillusioned with not only a lack of results, but also being dropped by riders who were once to be seen floundering in his wake.

'one way ticket' does not paint a pretty picture of the professional peloton in the late 1990s through to 2010, though the endemic doping is dealt a tad less dramatically than that espoused in tyler hamilton's 'the secret race'. not unexpectedly, vaughters' career as a first league cyclist is dealt with in detail, not only the successes and failures, but his self-imposed doping regime. he makes it clear that, while several notable confessors have blamed the team to which they were contracted, for their regular 'medical preparations', vaughters is man enough to accept full responsibility for his actions and of how it altered his perspective of his chosen career.

"Somehow in the mix of morality and disappointment, cycling had turned into something I had to do, instead of something I wanted to do. I was a million miles away from the wide-eyed kid who's motor-paced behind the orange Volvo."

of course jonathan vaughters is every bit as renowned for managing a succession of world tour cycle teams through slipstream sports, a partnership he shares (shared) with investor, doug ellis. i've written 'shared', because it transpires that the current sponsorship by ef education first has resulted in slipstream sports becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of the sponsor. therefore, the next stage in vaughters' impressive and telling career is currently being wirtten even as we read.

additionally, in his endeavours to try to make things right from the teams' and riders' perspective, he became, albeit unwittingly, the unchallenged president of the association inetrnationale des groupes cyclistes professionels, or aigcp to which it is more commonly referred. on overriding motive for seeking this post was to make things more financially equitable for the world tour teams. then and currently, the organsiders retain all the television rights to the major races and, unlike soccer, for instance, none of those monies are received by the teams on which those selfsame organisers rely to compete in their races.

it's a situation that has not changed in years and seems unlikely so to do. however, on being voted in as president, the outgoing incumbent "Patrick Lefevere came up to me, shook my hand and congratulated me. Then, as outgoing president, he gave me one small, valuable piece of advice. 'You're fucked,' he said. I'm sorry...'

the cynic in me has seriously considered that the bulk of 'one way ticket' could be the author's opportunity to take a stand of moral repugnance over all that took place in professional cycling from the mid-nineties until the end of the last decade. a carefully orchestrated, honours degree in hindsight, if you will. and, indeed, that may very well be the case; however, due to the tone of his narrative and the admissions that hardly place him in a particularly good light, i think this somewhat unlikely.

whatever your opinion of jonathan vaughters, bear in mind that, after rigoberto uran stood on the paris podium, promising him a plethora of better financial offers from other teams, despite the likelihood of the team folding due to a lack of a sponsor (again), he and the majority of the team were willing to stand by their boss while he continued the search for a new sponsor. loyalty such as that is rare in professional sport and even rarer in cycling. aside from the much-vaunted revelations and animosity towards a certain mr armstrong, 'one way ticket' is an excellent and utterly compulsive read.

thanks to the generosity of quercus editions, i have one copy of 'one way ticket' by jonathan vaughters, to give away to the sender of the first correct answer chosen from a (clean) argyle sock.
'what scottish-based motif has featured in virtually every team operated by slipstream sports?'
send your answers to, including a full postal address to which i might send the prize if you win. closing date is saturday 6 july.

monday 1 july 2019

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................