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by Shane Stokes
October 7, 2016
Photography by Cor Vos
Speaking in the course of a BBC interview into the Team Sky TUE controversy, former professional rider Jonathan Tiernan-Locke has claimed that unnamed individuals working with the British team offered riders the controversial medication Tramadol at the 2012 world road race championships.
“There was a time I rode the World Championships and we were offered a painkiller called Tramadol,” he told the BBC. “I wasn’t in any pain so I didn’t need to take it, and that was offered freely around. And then we are seeing later on that they are calling for it to be banned and it should be on the WADA list and whatnot.
“It just didn’t sit well with me at the time. I thought, ‘I’m not in any pain, why would I want a painkiller?’”
Tramadol is not banned but its use has long been controversial. Riders such as Taylor Phinney have called for it to be added to the WADA list of outlawed medication due to safety issues and also possible addiction. The UCI, too, has joined those calls, and told CyclingTips recently that it was lobbying WADA for it to be taken off the monitor list and put on the banned list.
However in recent days WADA confirmed that the rules would not be changed in relation to the substance. On Wednesday the UCI told CyclingTips that its hands are tied because of this decision.
Earlier, former Team Sky rider Michael Barry said that the team had used Tramadol in the past to gain an edge.
The use of grey area substances made headlines last month when a leak by Russian hackers showed that 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins received injections of the powerful corticosteroid Triamcinolone acetonide prior to the 2011 and 2012 Tours, as well as the 2013 Giro d’Italia.
The substance is normally banned in-competition, but Wiggins received a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) from the UCI after a doctor said he had asthma and allergies.
Wiggins had previously stated in his 2012 autobiography My Time that he had never received injections other than vaccinations and drips to treat extreme dehydration.
This contradiction was highlighted in recent weeks, as were his claims that he was sick prior to the 2011 and 2012 Tours. He dominated the Critérium du Dauphiné both years and never mentioned any illnesses at the time.
Ex-professionals David Millar, Jorg Jaksche and Michael Rasmussen, who all served doping bans, said that they used the same substance for performance-enhancing purposes. They said that they had received TUEs which permitted them to use Triamcinolone acetonide, and that the benefits were considerable.
Asked about the subject by the BBC, Tiernan-Locke said that he was uneasy about the Wiggins situation.
“It definitely looks odd,” he stated. “I don’t want to insinuate anything, but the timing doesn’t look great. You assume if you had a need for such a thing it would be consistent throughout his career, that you’d use it year in year out, so from that point of view it looks suspicious.
“But from the other perspective, we’ve got a guy who’s favourite for the general classification in these big races, so for a team like Sky who are so thorough, they don’t want to leave anything to chance so why risk these allergies derailing their best-laid plans, so I understand it.”
UCI rules state that use of corticosteroids while healthy to prevent possible problems is not permitted.
Tiernan-Locke was asked by the BBC if the team had been tainted by the Wiggins controversy.
“That’s a difficult one,” he answered. “For me, not personally. What Bradley won in the run up to that 2012 Tour de France win I personally believe it’s a case of preventing anything that might have derailed their plans, but I do think they have become tainted.
“People I have spoken to, out of training, it has kind of tainted their image somewhat. I think their modus operandi was to put things out in the public domain and look transparent and not have anything to hide. It’s somewhat less than transparent.”
He said that the handing out of Tramadol at the 2012 world championships was another example of the grey area potentially being exploited for success.
“That is the only thing that leads me to believe that there might be something against the spirit of the sport,” he said. “Riders are calling for those [Tramadol tablets – ed.] to be banned because you are getting guys taking so many of them, a cocktail with caffeine, that they don’t know what they are doing on the bike and causing crashes and taking risks. At the time it was quite prevalent.”
Tiernan-Locke was also asked about his own two year ban for doping, and if he continued to maintain his innocence.
“I am absolutely sticking to that, “ he said. He was banned as a result of a biological passport anomaly and reiterated that dehydration and other factors were responsible.
“Once you are judged in the court of public opinion, even before I had been to a hearing, it is very difficult to undo that.”
He said that he understood how people could find his denials hard to believe.
“If the shoe was on the other foot, I might think in a similar fashion,” he said.
Tiernan-Locke said that he went through a difficult period after the verdict. “In 2014 when the decision was made, that was really difficult. I just wanted to go to bed and not get back out.
“I’d put so much hope in the result that I’d get cleared and be racing again, so that that was a bitter pill to swallow, to put it mildly. It is a bit of a cliché, but time has kind of healed that.”
He indicated to the BBC that he was planning on racing again next season.
“I’m not someone who is just going to cancel life and not move on. It’s just about picking up the pieces and rebuilding,” he said.
“It’s such a lifestyle shift, I haven’t been used to over the last couple of years. Disowning cycling, kind of being bitter about it to just embracing it and enjoying it again.
“I didn’t touch a bike for ages, I thought I was done with it. Now I’m trying to put something back into the sport again.”