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Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Sky Procycling)
Says he would vouch for rider 100 per cent
Brian Smith has moved to defend Jonathan Tiernan-Locke after it was confirmed that the Sky rider has been asked to explain data relating to his biological passport to the UCI.
According to the Sunday Times, Tiernan-Locke was sent the letter in relation to tests carried while he was contracted to Smith’s 2012 team, Endura Racing. Sky signed Tiernan-Locke on the back of a stellar season in which the rider won the Tour Méditerranéen, Tour du Haut Var, Tour Alsace and the Tour of Britain.
Tiernan-Locke has not tested positive for any substance and has three weeks in which to submit a response to the sport’s governing body. A three-person panel will then asses whether to open a biological case against the rider.
“I can’t explain any of the irregularities but I would definitely vouch 100 per cent for John,” Smith, who was Endura's general manager, told Cyclingnews.
“For me, I don’t know how he’s going to explain this to the UCI but I don’t think he should have anything to worry about. I can put my hand up though and say 100 per cent that I don’t think he was doping at Endura Racing. There was no suspicion, no nothing.”
In 2012 Endura were ranked as a Continental team and therefore were outside of the UCI’s passport system. Tiernan-Locke’s performances raised eyebrows though and at the time he and his team stated that they would aim to publish test data in order to back up the rider’s assertions that he was riding and wining clean.
At the same time both Garmin and Sky expressed interest in signing Tiernan-Locke for 2013. According to Smith, Garmin tested Tiernan-Locke. The American team has a staunch anti-doping policy and test every rider before offering them a contract. With no biological passport tied to Tiernan-Locke due to his team’s ranking, the rider was invited to the team’s base in Girona for testing.
“We had a no-doping policy and talked openly within the team about that. We signed up to Bike Pure and we wanted to be seen as a clean team and that came right from the top. So we made sure everyone was looked after and that anyone could come to us is strict confidence if they wanted to talk. There were no problems whatsoever,” said Smith.
“Then in early April we were contacted by Garmin and I spoke to Jonathan Vaughters about it. We were also approached by Brailsford and he asked my thoughts at that time. I said John was the real deal and that we didn’t see there being any problems.”
Smith said that he also approached the UCI in order to seek further tests for Tiernan-Locke. According to Smith, Tiernan-Locke was keen on being added to the UCI’s biological testing programme too.
“I contacted the UCI at that time to see if they would put John onto a passport scheme. That came back as a resounding no,” Smith told Cyclingnews.
Smith then tried to seek testing in the UK but was left empty handed with few facilities able to test his rider to the relevant level needed by the UCI, but he was given a boost when Vaughters got back in contact.
“He was tested by Garmin, we tried to have him tested in this country but it wasn’t feasible because you’d have to get tested in Europe with all the travelling. Endura was prepared to pay for that and John wanted it because he was annoyed with all the rumours.”
“Jonathan Vaughters got in contact and said there were no abnormalities in John’s test and that they’d still like to progress with a possible chat of taking him on. Then Sky approached him and took him to a training camp in Tenerife at the start of May. I am not sure what testing Sky did or when [they] started. No matter what he was still under Endura. Sky looked after him at Worlds then the process started at their off season training camp. What happened during Sky training camps, I don't know. As far as I’m concerned Sky showed all due diligence in looking after him. I think I even sent the results from Jonathan Vaughters’ tests to them. They’ve seen all the data. As far as I’m concerned Jonathan is the real deal. Sky, Garmin and Endura all thought there were no irregularities with Jonathan.”
On the back of the Sunday Times article Team Sky were swift to issue a press release. The team have put forward a zero tolerance stance to doping in the wake of the USADA investigation from last year.
"Team Sky has been informed by Jonathan Tiernan-Locke that the UCI has notified him of a potential discrepancy in his biological passport data," said Team Sky in a press release. "He has withdrawn from racing whilst his response to the UCI is prepared then considered by the UCI.”
"We have no doubts over his performance, behaviour or tests at Team Sky and understand any anomaly is in readings taken before he joined the team. Team Sky has tried to respect what should be a confidential process, allowing the rider to explain in private, without prejudice, and the anti-doping authorities to do their valuable job.”
"At this stage in the ongoing process we will not add any further detail."
Smith has remained in contact with his former rider in 2013 and as well as staunchly backing Tiernan-Locke has added that any irregular passport data could be down to his health problems. Tiernan-Locke has certainly not enjoyed the 2013 road season and has complained of illness and overtraining in recent months.
“This year, as far as I’m concerned I can only think that with sickness and ill health, it’s put a big strain on him,” Smith said.
“I can only think it’s hormonal or a gland problem like he’s had in the past.”
“The training at Sky, I think, has pushed him over the edge. His body can not take the same training as Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. It has run him down and then his hormones have gone into overdrive. I don’t think one for second think he’s the sort to take PED, at all.