Team Sky Principal Dave Brailsford has insisted that his team’s image will not suffer as a result of the biological passport finding against team rider Jonathan Tiernan Locke, who was handed a two year ban on Thursday.
“I think the way that we have dealt with it has been good. It is quite clinical and it is clear and it sends a message that everybody knows if you come to Team Sky what our stance is,” he told a group of journalists outside the team bus at the finish of stage 12 to St. Etienne.
“He knew what our stance is. He came all the same and the contract has been terminated. So in that sense I think you have got to deal with these things and continue to deal with it.”
The news about the ruling was first printed on the UCI’s list of doping cases, available here. UK Anti Doping then issued a short statement, saying that the decision in relation to Tiernan Locke was made by the National Anti-Doping Panel, and that it couldn’t comment further due to confidentiality restrictions in place.
The rider has been handed a two year ban running until the December 31 2015, and has also been stripped of his victory in the 2012 Tour of Britain and 19th place in the UCI world road race championships of that year.
Tiernan Locke competed with Team Endura in 2012 and had a superb season. He attended a team training camp with Sky in the first half of that year and later signed a two year deal to race with the team in 2013 and 2014.
His suspect blood values occurred in September 2012. It was his first official blood test and the suspicious nature of that sample was only exposed after a number of subsequent follow up examinations.
Asked if he believed the verdict, Brailsford said he had no choice. “I don’t think I am expert enough to be able to question the outcome. What I am saying is, given the outcome, we will respect that,” he stated. “We terminate his contract. There is no place for cheats in this sport and there is certainly no place for cheats in Team Sky.”
Pressed on whether he specifically if he believed the rider doped, he refrained from saying yes. “I am saying there is no place for cheats. If you have been convicted, that is because I presume they think he has cheated.”
He denied that his team had any involvement in the matter. “I think our ambition is clear. To do it clean. And we have done. We have come out and said ‘we are a British team, we want to win the Tour de France with a clean British rider’ – which we have done – ‘we want to create a cycling revolution’ – which we have done,” he said.
“A guy has cheated before he has got to our team. That process is now concluded and there is quite clearly no place for him on our team. That is the situation.”
According to his former Endura Racing manager Brian Smith, who spoke at length on the matter to this writer in December, Tiernan Locke attended a Sky training camp in Tenerife on May of 2012.
CyclingTips understands the rider remained in contact with the team after that point, and a letter of intent was signed to bring him on board.
Brailsford was asked Thursday if the team was working with the squad earlier than September 2012.
“With Team Sky? No…I would have to check,” he replied. “He might have come to one training camp, so we could see him, basically, but no, we weren’t working with a rider from another team.”
Another team was interested in taking on the rider and said it was prepared to carry out a series of anti-doping tests in order to ensure that the rider was clean.
In contrast, Brailsford said that Tiernan Locke’s first passport blood test took place in September. “The significant test [the suspect finding] was his first ever biological passport test. Given that it is a longitudinal test, one test in isolation…you have to have the rest of the tests before you recognise.
“What we have done since, of course, is we have stopped and very much looked at our governance. We have got a new governance and compliance officer. We scrutinised in real detail now all the information that we have got, and I would say our monitoring I’d say is second to none. So that is the learning from it.”
Brailsford said that the case showed that there was a difficulty in recruiting riders without an existing biological passport. However he said that it was hard to avoid them too.
“I think you have got to [consider signing them] in this sport. There is a certain age and… if you come up through a pro continental team, for example, and you want to take on any neo-pros, they haven’t got biological passport. But the more work we can do on it, the better it is.
“At the end of the day, if the process is helping catch people who are trying to cheat, albeit before they came to our team, then it is all well and good.”
He insisted that the data gathered when he was on the team appeared to show that he was doing nothing untoward. Tiernan Locke had a very quiet 2013, saying that the team’s stringent training policy didn’t suit him and that he was becoming progressively more run down.
“There was nothing that we could see in the data that we had to suggest that. There were no anomalies then,” he said.
Asked if he felt personally let down, he said that he did. “I think when somebody knows clearly what your stance is and then if they disregard that and come all the same, then you do feel let down,” he stated. “There is no denying that.
“But like I said, we are pushing in a way to try and create a new phase of the sport. He didn’t cheat with us, he cheated before he got here. But like I said there is no place for cheats in our sport.”
CyclingTips sought to ask Brailsford why Team Sky didn’t commission its own blood testing prior to signing him, thus building up its own version of a biological passport. He did not answer the question, instead walking away from the media cluster and getting onto the team bus.
Efforts to reach Tiernan-Locke have thus far been unsuccessful.
His former manager Brian Smith declined to comment, but he has said repeatedly in the past that he trusts the rider.