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by Shane Stokes
August 19, 2014
Former Endura Racing and Team Sky rider Jonathan Tiernan-Locke has had his two year suspension for doping confirmed today by UK Anti-Doping (UKAD), with the rider electing not to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Tiernan-Locke made a strong improvement in results in 2012, winning the Tour du Haut Var, the Tour of the Mediterranean and the Tour of Britain.
He was subjected to a biological passport blood test for the first time in his career on September 22 2012. This was six days after his Tour of Britain victory, two days after signing a two year deal with Team Sky and one day before he rode the UCI world road race championships, finishing 19th.
He had been subjected to three urine tests during the Tour of Britain but, according to UKAD, none of these were analysed for traces of EPO.
Over the next five months four further samples were taken to build up his longitudinal profile for the biological passport. These set a baseline and made it clear that his September 22 reading was abnormal.
The then-Team Sky rider was officially notified by the UCI on September 18 2013 that he was under investigation; he returned home from that year’s world road race championships as a result. He fought the case for several months but on July 17 the UCI confirmed via its web page that he was facing a two year ban for doping.
Tiernan-Locke had himself been given the verdict on July 15 and had a month to lodge an appeal. He has not done so, meaning that he will be liable to the sanctions handed down.
“This is the first Athlete Biological Passport case handled by UK Anti-Doping, handed down under the rules by the UCI,” stated the UKAD Director of Legal Graham Arthur. “The Panel found Jonathan Tiernan-Locke to be in breach of the UCI Anti-Doping Rules and consequently he has been handed a two-year ban preventing him from competing or training in sport.”
UCI President Brian Cookson thanked UKAD for their work and for providing what he said was a fair and independent hearing to the rider. “This case demonstrates how the UCI is working with partners on a global level to combat doping and protect our sport.”
Tiernan-Locke’s two year back runs from January 1 2014. He has also been stripped of his results from the 2012 Tour of Britain and world road race championships, and given a fine of £15,400. This represents 70% of his gross income during his 2012 season with Endura Racing.
In addition to that, he must pay costs of CHF 2,500 for results management and €324 for laboratory documentation. The costs of the proceedings have been waived by UKAD.
In conjunction with the announcement of the suspension, the UKAD has printed details of the case, including details of the abnormal blood sample plus Tiernan-Locke’s defence.
It discloses that the haemoglobin concentration was 17.9 g/dL and the percentage of immature blood cells, or reticulocytes, just 0.15%. [Editor’s note: the former reading equates to a haematocrit reading of approximately 53.7%, while standard reticulocyte levels are approximately 1%.]
According to UKAD, these “were well outside the parameters that would be expected for the rider in normal physiological circumstances. These two values combine to give a highly abnormal OFF- score value of 155.8. In the absence of a plausible explanation from the rider it is alleged that the inevitable inference is that he had engaged in some form of doping to increase his haemoglobin levels.”
Tiernan-Locke’s defence was based largely on what he said was a binge of alcohol on September 20, approximately 32 hours before the sample was taken. He said that he went out with his girlfriend to celebrate his contract with Team Sky. UKAD’s documentation about the case lays out what he said during the hearing.
“Over dinner they had two bottles of wine, most of which were drunk by him. After dinner they went out in Bristol and visited several bars, where he drank heavily, both wine and spirits. He is unable to recall precisely what he drank but it included 6 or 7 double measures of gin before moving on to vodka. His evidence is that he does not drink often, but when he does he tends to “binge drink”. His normal off season binge drinking would include a full bottle of spirits followed by further drinks in bars.”
Tiernan-Locke then said that he awoke with a hangover the following morning. He had not vomited during the night. “He took aspirin and paracetamol throughout the day, which he spent in bed until he had to leave to catch a plane to Maastricht. He felt sick during the flight, but does not speak of vomiting. He did not disclose to his teammates that he was sick or had a hangover as he knew this would not meet with a favourable reaction. During the day he did not eat or drink, save for a few drops of water used to take the tablets.”
UKAD said that his evidence is ‘corroborated to an extent’ by evidence from his girlfriend, who said she stayed the night with him and left at around 7am the following morning. Dr. Kingsley Hampton spoke in the rider’s defence and said that he estimated Tiernan-Locke had a total alcohol intake in the evening of 335 grams, over 33 units of alcohol.
He said this this would cause a “desperately abnormal” effect on reticulocyte production.
UKAD considered the case and said it had “considerable reservations” as to the evidence.
In its ruling, it discusses this in detail.
“We are unable to dismiss as implausible the evidence that Mr. Tiernan-Locke did in fact imbibe a substantial amount of alcohol during the evening of 20 September,” it states. “However we do not accept the evidence that he was in a state of severe dehydration when he gave the blood sample at 0830 on 22 September. It is inconceivable that a professional rider, selected for the first time to ride for his country at a senior level in the world championships, would not have ensured that by the time he arrived in the team hotel at Maastricht he was fit to race and had ensured that he had taken on sufficient water to deal with any hangover which he was still experiencing.”
It also cites a detailed report dated May 13 2014, which was complied by Professors Schumacher and D’Onofrio. They were part of UKAD’s panel of experts for the case. This report rebutted the thesis suggested by Dr. Hampton.
It concluded that there was no scientific evidence to show a reduction in plasma volume after alcohol consumption; in fact, the report suggested it might even be elevated. It added that if alcohol-induced dehydration had indeed been a significant factor, that the mean cell volume (MCV) of the red cells would have been reduced. However the report states that MCV was “well within normal parameters.”
In terms of the suppressed reticulocyte levels, Professors Schumacher and D’Onofrio said that there was no scientific evidence to show that acute alcohol intoxication affects reticulocytes in healthy people. It adds that “even the most extreme damage to bone marrow cells, by myelosuppressive chemotherapy, causes only a gradual decrease of reticulocytes over 7 – 10 days, not an immediate severe reduction in reticulocyte levels as implied by Dr. Hampton’s thesis.”
Giving its final conclusion, UKAD said that it was “entirely satisfied, to the required standard of proof of comfortable satisfaction taking into account the seriousness of the case, that the explanation advanced on behalf of the rider cannot explain the abnormal values obtained from the sample taken on 20 September 2012.”
It added that it had concluded that he was not in a state of severe dehydration when the sample was taken, and that the combination of an abnormally high haematocrit level and an abnormally low reticulocyte level that “compels the conclusion that a prohibited substance or method had been used by the rider.”