Jonathan Tiernan-Locke: Team Sky terminate cyclist's contract following anti-doping violation
Cyclist has also been stripped of his 2012 Tour of Britain title
Team Sky endured a day to forget in the Tour de France on Thursday after news broke two hours before the stage finish that their rider Jonathan Tiernan-Locke had been suspended for two years for a doping offence – and was promptly sacked from the team.
Tiernan-Locke’s offence is linked to irregularities in his biological passport and dates from before his signing for Sky last year. But the former Tour of Britain winner has the dubious honour of being the first Team Sky rider in the squad’s four-and-a-half year history to be found directly guilty of a doping violation.
While Tiernan-Locke now faces a suspension until December 2015, in the short term at the Tour it meant Sky’s top management faced a barrage of questions about the rider’s offence and the recruitment process that allowed him to join the team in the first place.
As the Team Sky riders completed Thursday’s stage and began their process of warming down – riding at a gentle pace to eliminate lactic acid – in a long line in front of the team bus, just a few yards away team principal Sir Dave Brailsford was surrounded by reporters. But for the first time in this year’s Tour, the subject for discussion had nothing to do the day’s racing.
“We respected the process and now it’s been concluded, we terminated his contract with immediate effect,” Brailsford said. “We know that the violation was before he joined Team Sky... there’s no place for cheats in this sport and certainly not in Team Sky.”
Tiernan-Locke was racing with a team at Continental level – in football terms, more or less equivalent to League One – in 2012 when he took a string of wins, including the Tour of the Mediterranean, the Tour du Haut Var in France and the Tour of Britain.
However, at that level of racing there is no biological passport programme in place – and in Tiernan-Locke’s case, given the anomaly dated from pre-2013, the readings that eventually confirmed a possible doping offence were only completed in March of last year.
Tiernan-Locke raced for 39 days with Team Sky before he was notified of the biological passport irregularities and suspended in September 2013. During the investigation that followed – which was subject to several delays – he is reported to have denied doping.
Brailsford recognised, nonetheless, that Sky’s recruiting process had undergone a major review and overhaul after the Tiernan-Locke case. “What we have done since” he said on Thursday “is very much look at our governance. We scrutinise in real detail now all the information we’ve got and our monitoring is second to none.” A compliance officer has also been specially appointed by Sky to keep all these questions under closer control.
Brailsford pointed out that the ongoing difficulty for any World Tour team – not just Sky – when signing either amateurs or riders from lower-division teams is that biological passport programs do not exist at that level. “It does raise the issue of signing riders without a biological passport history, but we’ve got to,” he said.
“There’s a certain age [group], if you want to take on neo-pros, they haven’t got a biological passport, so there’s an element of trust in the situation. The more work we can do on it [the biological passport] the better it is. At the end of the day, if the process is helping to catch people who are trying to cheat, albeit before they came to our team, then all well and good.”
Brailsford finally broke off the impromptu press conference mid-way through a question about Tiernan-Locke’s alleged presence at several Sky training camps prior to signing for the team.But the consequences may well rumble on for some time to come.
Meanwhile after a bunch sprint won on Thursday by Alexander Kristoff, the Tour moves into the first of five crucial mountain stages on Friday, with two full-scale Alpine mountain top finishes starting to carve out the definitive classification of this year’s race.
So far the Tour’s two top pre-race contenders, Alberto Contador and Chris Froome, left early because of crashes and injuries, and a dark horse for the final podium, Andrew Talansky, finally opted not to start on Thursday when the pain from his back injuries got too much.
However, a climb like Friday’s 18.2 kilometres ascent to the ski station of Chamrousse in the Alps will see a lasting hierarchy emerging – and indicate whether Vincenzo Nibali, the current race leader, is strong enough in the high mountains to be able to battle for the title all the way through to Paris.
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