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A life on the bike: Jonathan Vaughters’s EF journey

A life on the bike: Jonathan Vaughters’s EF journey

Jonathan Vaughters—also known as JV—is a bit of a legend. A professional cyclist from 1994 to 2003, he made headlines when he co-founded Slipstream Sports in 2005, based on his belief that there was a better way to run a cycling team. A staunch defender of ethical competition and fair play, JV has spent his years with the team—now EF Education First Drapac p/b Cannondale—identifying and coaching riders while managing the overall operations of the team.

Now that JV and his team are part of EF Education First, we asked him about how he spends his days running the team, his observations of EF, and his favorite moments from a life spent on the bike.

What’s your typical day like?
Many hours of my day are spent just on the phone, serving as a hub of communication between different sectors of the team. That’s probably where my biggest job is within the organization. I’m kind of the only person who can go all the way from connecting the mechanics to the people in accounting or vice versa. Most of my day is actually making sure that those lines of communication between operational people in the field are not dissonant from what’s going on in the business side of the team.

How many languages do you speak and what role does language play on the team?
Three—English, French, and Spanish. They’re kind of the three best ones to know on this team. French, because it is the official international language of cycling and the one used at the governance level of cycling. English, because we’re an American team. And then Spanish, because we have our base in Girona, Spain. We also have a very strong contingent of Spanish-speaking riders.

What was your favorite race to ride in?
My favorite race was the [Critérium du] Dauphiné. It was sort of like a miniature Tour de France, but it didn’t have the same level of pressure, crowds, or craziness. It was quieter and more serene but still in the French Alps so it was very beautiful.

In all of your years in cycling, what’s been your favorite moment?
As a rider, my favorite moment was winning the team time trial in the 2001 Tour de France. It was a really special moment because you do it with all your teammates and it was truly a unified team effort. We were complete underdogs that no one expected to win that day. As a manager, oh boy, there have been a lot of them. I would say my favorite moment was winning the 2011 Paris-Roubaix. Just because it was planned and executed to utter perfection—to the disbelief of many.

Tell us how you got the nickname El Gato (The Cat)?
Well, sheer luck is how I got it. It was just one crash in the 1999 Tour de France, where I hit the back end of another crash really fast and flipped over my handlebars. Normally, you’d land on your collarbone, head, or whatever. I flipped all the way over my bike, did a complete somersault, and landed on my feet. I have no idea how that happened. I just remember skidding along 20 feet after the crash on just my cleats on my feet. It took me five minutes to find my bike, which was the worst thing about the crash.

You recently visited EF in Shanghai. What was it like?
I was just amazed at the intense work ethic of the EF employees. I often think in the U.S., we give ourselves a lot of credit for having a very strong work ethic, but to witness what the EF employees were doing in China really made me think okay, this is a group that works hard. I think EF does a very good job of promoting a strong, independent work ethic no matter what office you happen to be in.

Do you notice any similarities between EF and the pro cycling world?
I think EF’s interest in cross-cultural pollination is very similar to that of pro cycling. EF’s objective is to broaden people’s world views by exposing them to different cultures. Pro cycling, in a way, does that as well, for different audiences who watch races across the world. Pro cycling has a very strong culture within itself, with lots of traditions. EF seems to be the same way.