Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas were left “shocked” and “surprised” after their Team Sky team-mate Jonathan Tiernan-Locke was withdrawn from racing while he prepares a response to allegations that potential discrepancies in his biological passport have revealed suspect blood values.
The UCI, cycling’s governing body, has given the British rider three weeks to provide answers before a three-strong panel determine whether he should be charged with a doping offence. He had been due to ride in support of Froome in yesterday’s World Championships road race in Florence but pulled out on Thursday when informed of the discrepancies. Tiernan-Locke claimed the withdrawal was simply down to poor form but the UCI concerns were leaked on Saturday night.
The British team heard the news as they prepared to race yesterday. “It’s a shock for all of us,” said Froome. Thomas said: “It’s a massive surprise.”
Sky issued a statement yesterday confirming the UCI investigation and that the period in question pre-dates Tiernan-Locke joining the team, occurring when he was racing for the Endura team in 2012. It said: “Team Sky has been informed by Jonathan Tiernan-Locke that the UCI has notified him of a potential discrepancy in his biological passport data. He has withdrawn from racing whilst his response to the UCI is prepared.
“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.”
The 28-year-old was signed by Sky after enjoying a memorable 2012, when he won the Tour of Britain, the Tour Méditerranéen and the Tour du Haut Var. He did not have a biological passport – used to record long-term testing that shows up signs of blood doping or performance-enhancing drugs – while with Endura as they are a lower-tier team, but he was tested more regularly.
Brian Smith, his manager at Endura, defended his former charge yesterday. “I can’t explain any of the irregularities but I would definitely vouch 100 per cent for Jon,” Smith told Cycling News.