Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford was once again forced to defend his team's reputation and stance on doping after it emerged that British rider Jonathan Tiernan-Locke had been suspended by the UCI for a Biological Passport violation.
Tiernan-Locke joined Team Sky in 2013 after winning the 2012 Tour of Britain and a string of early-season races in France while riding for the Endura Racing Continental team. He had trained with Team Sky earlier that year but his suspicious blood values only caught the eye of the UCI later in 2013 and he was placed under investigation in September of that year and withdrawn from races by Team Sky.
The Endura Racing team was not part of the Biological Passport programme and it is understood that the teams saw no irregularities in his blood values. Team Sky also claimed it failed to spot anything suspicious.
Tiernan-Locke was banned by the UCI until December 31, 2015 and disqualified from the 2012 Tour of Britain and the 2012 UCI Road World Championships, with the UCI stating that they were "competitions during which abnormalities were clearly identified."
Brailsford admitted that Team Sky has now further strengthened the way it scrutinizes riders before signing them. He insisted that Team Sky were not at fault in what has been a long, drown out case.
He dismissed Tieran-Locke as a cheat.
"We set out with our ambition at Team Sky of being a British team, with a plan to win the Tour with a British rider and there's no place for cheats in this sport and certainly not in Team Sky," Brailsford said, repeating his stance several times while speaking to media after stage 12 of the Tour de France in Saint-Etienne.
"I think you've got to respect the process. I'm not expert enough to question the outcome. If he's been convicted I presume that's because they think he's cheated."
"A guy cheated before he got to our team and that process is now concluded. There's quite clearly no place for him on our team."
When asked if he felt let down by Tiernan-Locke, Braislford said: "I think when somebody clearly knows what your stance is and then disregards that and comes all the same, then you feel let down, there's no denying that. But as I said, we're pushing to create a new phase of the sport. He didn’t cheat with us, he cheated before he got here and as I said, there's no place for cheats in our sport."
A stain on Team Sky?
Brailsford refuted a suggestion that the case could leave on stain on Team Sky's reputation.
The team has what it calls a 'zero-tolerance' stance to doping, with several team members leaving the team after it emerged they doped during their careers. However Team Sky has always preferred not to join the highly respected MPCC (Mouvement pour un cyclisme credibile) and has been embroiled in a number of alleged doping and medical related scandals as it dominated stage races and especially the Tour de France.
"I think the way we've dealt with it has been quite good and clear. It's sent a message that if you're going to come to Team Sky, then you know what our stance is. He knew what our stance is, he came all the same and his contract has been terminated," Brailsford insisted, referring to the Tiernan-Locke case.
Team Sky recruited Tiernan-Locke despite him not being part of the UCI Biological Passport programme and despite surprise at his sudden success with Endura Racing. Brailsford said Tieran-Locke joined the Biological Passport programme in September 2012, making it difficult to spot any possible doping activity.
"There was nothing we could see in the data we've had to suggest that. There was nothing, no anomalies," Brailsford claimed.
"It does raise the issue about recruiting riders without a Biological Passport history. But I think you have to do that in this sport. If you want to sign young neo-pros, they don’t have Biological passports, there's an element of trust in the situation. But the more work we can do on it, the better it is. At the end of the day, if the process is helping to catch people who are trying to cheat, all be it before they came to our team, then all well and good."
Brailsford said Team Sky appointed a governance officer last year. According to the Guardian newspaper, this is Allison Johnson, a longstanding British Cycling employee and Brailsford’s one-time Personal Assistant.
"What we have done since is very much look at out compliance and governance," Brailsford claimed.
"We've got a new governance officer. We scrutinize in real detail all the information that we get and our monitoring I'd say is second to none. That's the learning from it."