MALLORCA, Spain (Reuters) - Years of scepticism toward scientific and technological innovation have been wiped out recently as cycling has been recovering from major drugs scandals, according to former professional rider and now team manager Jonathan Vaughters.
American Vaughters, a former team mate of Lance Armstrong’s who admitted to doping during his career, launched Slipstream Sports in 2005 and Garmin-Chipotle -- now Cannondale-Garmin after a merger with the Italian team. They started in the elite in 2008 on a strong anti-doping stance.
A pro racer from 1994-2003, the 41-year-old Vaughters has seen the worst in cycling, but also experienced from the inside the fight against doping, which took a major turn in 2008 when the International Cycling Union (UCI) introduced the biological passport.
The focus could then turn on to innovation to gain an advantage over rival teams.
“When I started racing I had a SRM (a power-measuring device), I was one of the firs with Stefano Della Santa and (Greg) LeMond, it was three guys in the peloton who had a SRM,” Vaughters told Reuters at a Cannondale-Garmin training camp.
”Now it’s standard that everyone measures power.
“In 2008 with David Millar we did lot of wind-tunnel testing we had fast equipment, we had a big advantage. Nowadays that advantage is gone,” he said.
All teams now measure power and look to take the edge through minor gains on positioning, suits and bikes.
“The scepticism regarding technological developments has eroded because in old cycling, in the end someone would say we can gain five watts in the wind tunnel if we exact your position and use the perfect skinsuit and use this special material or whatever... and then the team doctor says, yeah, but we can gain 50 by doping,” Vaughters said.
“We were a little bit demoralized regarding technological development and innovation.”
Riders now are known for trying to lose weight in order to improve their power ratio, an effort they would not necessarily have had to make when doping was rife in the sport.
“When I was racing, losing one kilo, two kilos who cares, you know, because you could make a big difference with EPO -- now you come down to losing one or two kilos it’s a big advantage.”
Team Sky were the first to advertise their taste for technological innovation when they started in the elite in 2010, trying to reproduce British track cycling’s hunt for marginal gains on the road.
“What they did so well is execute and systematize, because they had a huge budget they were able to execute and systematize all the advances across the board of the team,” Vaughters said.
“In other teams maybe we had the means to do wind tunnel testing for one or two riders -- it’s a smaller scientific operation.”
While Cannondale-Garmin still operate with only one coach, others, like French outfits FDJ and AG2R-La Mondiale, have beefed up their staff with four and three coaches respectively.
“You can see the racing is more compressed, it’s a tighter margin between the top riders so the riders become open to technological innovation, they become willing to experiment,” Vaughters said.
Editing by Ed Osmond