Unless and until the UCI announces that Jonathan Tiernan-Locke was guilty of doping, it’s fair to say that he got a raw deal and deserves some sympathy in his ongoing biological passport anomaly story.

At the moment, nobody but the UCI and Tiernan-Locke needed to know about this. The first stages of a biological passport anomaly investigation should remain anonymous. Basically, the smart algorithims in Geneva at the (independent) Athlete Passport Management Unit (APMU) have flagged up his test results and one expert – then another two – have had to study data and a background package of information and collectively decided that the anomalies in his blood chemistry require an explanation.

At which point, the APMU informed the UCI that rider ‘634BX’ should be contacted and asked to provide an explanation for his freaky data. Note, that at no point does the APMU know who they are dealing with, all they have is numbers. The UCI then informs the rider – and only the rider – that he has 30 days to gather data and explain himself. Neither the team, nor the Federation nor any other national anti-doping agency are informed at this point. Because at this point, nothing has been proved and no judgement has been passed.

It turned out that rider ‘634BX’ was Sky pro Jon Tiernan-Locke and news that there were anomalies in his biological passport got out. David Walsh of the Sunday Times broke the story on Sunday 29 September, three days after Tiernan-Locke had pulled out of the GB road team in Florence, citing a lack of form. Jumping to a not very unlikely conclusion, it would suggest that JT-L received notice of his biopassport anomalies around the same time as he withdrew from the team.

At this point, there aren’t many people who really know how the news leaked or how the story unfolded. But let’s speculate wildly shall we? Experienced cycling journalist Walsh pressed Sky boss Dave Brailsford hard as to why JT-L had pulled out, Brailsford couldn’t risk lying to the team’s hitherto embedded journalist in case JT-L turned out to be guilty; Walsh, in turn, couldn’t sit on the story for fear of being called a Sky stooge, so he had to run the story. Walsh worked for a Sunday paper, so had no wriggle room and couldn’t sit on the story. Fresh in both men’s minds was the story of how Marin Cilic’s doping positive was covered up during Wimbledon, announced as a withdrawal through injury. How does that sound for a piece of wild speculation? Tiernan-Locke as an innocent (?) victim, caught in a perfect ethical storm, a private matter thrown into the public domain.

In some ways, it’s irrelevant how the news leaked. No matter what the outcome of the case following Tiernan-Locke’s explanation, he will be forever tainted in the eyes of some fans and media. Let’s assume he’s innocent, let’s imagine that his explanation for his passport anomalies satisfies the three APMU experts who then report back to the UCI and say that there’s ‘No case to answer.’

If that is the case then, under normal circumstances nobody, but nobody, would even have been aware that Tiernan-Locke had needed to explain anything (theoretically not even the experts at the APMU would have known whose data and defence they were studying, it’s still anonymised). It’s too late for that now though, the horse has well and truly bolted out of the digital stable. What if Tiernan-Locke does get a clean bill of health from the APMU? Who is going to repair Tiernan-Locke’s tattered reputation?

Of course, if Tiernan-Locke is found guilty, he’ll deserve what he gets, the same as any other blood doped rider. If he is innocent, he’ll be ‘tainted’. It’s like a cycling witch trial: he’s been strapped to the ducking stool and he can’t win from this point on. He floats: he’s a doper! He’s drowned: ah, too bad, he was clean. Like any rider, guilty or innocent in similar circumstances, Tiernan-Locke deserved anonymity and due process. He didn’t get it and future sympathy won’t be a substitute for a career.

Related links

Tiernan-Locke biological passport anomaly: former team issues statement

Tiernan-Locke’s biological passport under scrutiny

  • Simon Burgess

    Good luck anyhow JT, you rode well for SportBeans Willier in 2008/2009 winning lots of races and beating me as well. Hope you did it clean!

  • Dudley Samuels

    I know Jonathan Tiernan-Locke was given extra time to explain to the UCI – but how much longer does he need ? or maybe I have missed something ? – can anybody update me please

  • John Hart

    Pity Walsh did not focus on the important issue “who leaked”.

    If JTL’s rep is tarnished (I doubt it) he should sue UCI for damages

    Please remember JTL did not have a “blood passport” before he joined Sky, despite apparently trying to get into the UCI programme, so “anomalies” are fairly recent (and not related to any successes).

  • Carn Soaks

    It was all leaked to derail Cookson’s tilt at the Presidency. Thank fates great hand that he beat out VBR’s stooge for the position. It will be interesting to see how PMQ plays his role at the IOC regarding the place of cycling. Will he begrudge the sport that lifted him to such heights, and make our sport pay dearly at the Olympic movement, or be a decent human being for once and forget about money and do the right thing?

  • Steve

    I agree with those who say there’s no reason for a sportsman that is proven innocent to be tainted, suspected or otherwise disadvantaged in a society that believes in innocence until proven guilty (we do don’t we?). It is definitely a case of Kenny Pryde “building his part” by over-dramatising the situation and adding to the voices of the ignorant and intolerant (with a small pretence at being balanced). Not what I want to read in Cycling Weekly.

  • Link

    @ Alan Sanders – It is highly unlikely that Pat McQuaid leaked a, at present, non-story about a rider who’s agent is Andrew McQuaid.

    @KennyP – I have just read this article, by you, that contains little more than pure message board speculation. And the part about Brailsford caving to Walsh is pure fantasy. You also brush aside the Only important part of the whole story to date: Who leaked the existence of the letter to Walsh. This person, if from the UCI, has broken their nondisclosure agreement. If this person is from Sky, then they seem to have an agenda that is not in JTL’s best interest.

    This is the most important question; Who leaked the info and why? The second most important topic is JTL’s defense (not defence), which he should have been preparing in private.

  • Nic

    Realise that the idea of where the leak came from is unfounded speculation – but have to say that if that is what happened, I’d back Brailsford… presumably other commentators saying shame on him would have him tell an outright lie to a journalist?

  • Michael

    or perhaps unhelpful speculation dressed up as a well balanced article.
    I don’t know DB but i doubt very much whether he’s so short sighted as to cave into journalistic pressure as you speculate – the result, as you go onto describe, is the ruining of an athlete’s career. Only journalists would have shrieked ‘cover up’ if the team kept silent and the rider turned out to be guilty.

    Media desperation to leverage the drugs in sport topic must surely pose the greatest risk to any athlete picked out by the testing regime but who is innocent. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and most of us are happy to share it in the cafe, on the bike or on message boards – but that is not where the damage is done.

    This article isn’t the cause of the awful situation JTL is now in; David Walsh can pat himself on the back for that, however the endless follow on media speculation only serves to perpetuate it – and in this case drag DB into the mix – but wouldn’t you love to get him onto the ducking stool?

  • Neil vdp

    If his explanations for the blood variations are found to be valid, I hope the media does their part and publicise his innocence as much as they did any suspician. The last paragraph is a little sensational! If transaparency is maintained, the media do the right thing, AND he’s innocent, he won’t be ‘tainted’ forever. The leak is not a good thing, but it’s far better than sweeping things under the carpet- A far more common occurence in cycling.

  • Ken

    Well put. If any further argument is needed as to why anonymity and due process should, at this stage at least, have been maintained instead of this trial by media, then see some of the comments posted on the original story, some of which I took to task, which were apparently posted after reading just the headline, or at best, half the story.

  • Samuel G

    I’m not comfortable with the 5th paragraph, claiming that you are speculating wildly does not excuse unfounded allegations, if you have evidence to support this theory you should publish it or report it to the relevant people.

  • KennyP

    To reiterate, how the story was leaked isn’t really the point and all we’ve got there is (vague) speculation. It’s the fact that it was and how it has impacted on everyone’s perception of the rider and the credibility of the process that I’d say is important.

    We keep asking for transparency and wanting credible anti-doping strategies – and so we should. But how can the riders be confident that everything is being done properly when something like this is leaked? It wasn’t as though someone tipped off a journalist that a rider’s ‘A’ sample tested positive for EPO is it?

    Anyway, we’ll know more in a month.

  • Vance Harvey

    Excellent article and I agree totally; but lets hope your speculation that DB may have leaked the story to Walsh is totally unfounded, and just a fantasy of your mind!

    It’s shameful that JTL is victimised in this way, and shame on Walsh for capitalising on the story without proof, thus putting a young man’s reputation at stake.

  • Ger Watson

    Didn’t L’Equipe ask the pointed question, Chimera or Champion? when Tiernan-Locke produced some strange (in his unremarkable career) wining race results!
    From what we have been told; his wins and the timings of them allied to the blood passport anomalies don’t look good.
    However, he should still have been entitled to anonymity until the time came when he wasn’t entitled to it.

  • Marc Houlton

    So knowing the details, as described above, did Cycling print (under JTL’s photo, in todays edition) ” JTL – some explaining to do” – this to me confirms what Kenny states – “tainted” and Cycling appear to be stood on the bench with the rest of the lynch mob. Once he’s provided the required – lets remember this is a guy who came back to cycling at a late age (mid 20’s) and got to Elite level in a short time on his performances – the ability had been known by many since his late teens but illness cut his initial career short. I’m in his corner, and I know many experienced and knowledgeble people are also – pity Garmin & Sky, who both tested him during 2012 are’nt coming out providing support.

  • Graham Etheridge

    Excellent well balanced article Kenny.

  • paul

    Not irrelevent how it was leaked for me – no way.
    If Brailsford did tell a journo then shame on him.

    If, as it quite possible it turns out to be nothing, then yet more damage has been done to cyclings reputation.
    Thought we was past the days of breaking drugs stories on the day before major events, these parasites that make money off bad news should sod off. Same as that Horner story the other week –
    did damage for no reason whatsoever and should NEVER have been leaked.

  • Alan Sanders

    I think that what is most interesting is that a British riders anomalous reading was leaked, possibly by the UCI, just beforeduring an election which resulted in a new man at the helm. Might it be possible that the previous president had something to do with the leak? Just speculating

  • Peter

    By repeating and running the story you are continuing the debate into his inocence; if you really believed in anonymity you wouldn’t contiuing to run it.
    If you hadn’t run the story in the first place I would not have even known about it – it may come as some surprise to you but not everyone reads the Sunday Times!

  • Sam

    Poor journalism. I agree 100% that JTL’s letter from the UCI should not be in the public domain as this stage is meant to be a confidential process. However this is the same writer who constantly bemoans on Twitter the evils of speculation and judgement directed at riders – yet has no problem speculating here about who’s done what? Misguided writing.