Tiernan Locke’s former team manager Smith says he believes in rider, despite UCI’s anti-doping violation process
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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tiernan Locke’s former team manager Smith says he believes in rider, despite UCI’s anti-doping violation process

by Shane Stokes at 9:23 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Doping
 
“I know he is clean, he knows he is clean, his management knows that he is clean, Endura knows that he is clean, yet he has to go through all this”

Jon Tiernan LockeJon Tiernan Locke’s former manager at the Endura Racing team, Brian Smith, has reiterated his support from the rider in the wake of the UCI’s request yesterday for a disciplinary hearing over suspected blood doping.

Smith has said that he believes Locke is fully innocent, and that the UCI is moving the matter forward because it has to defend the biological passport process against any doubts.

“It is frustrating for me. I know he is clean, he knows he is clean, his management knows that he is clean, Endura knows that he is clean, yet he has to go through all this,” Smith, a former professional and current Eurosport commentator, told VeloNation. “I feel sorry for him.”

After Tiernan Locke unexpectedly headed home from cycling’s world road race championships in September, the Sunday Times reported that doubts had been thrown up by the UCI’s biological passport system, which tracks blood values over a period of time to try to pinpoint any suspicious patterns.

The UCI subsequently confirmed this, saying that the rider’s case was being analysed by its experts. The situation continued without any deliberation until yesterday, when the governing body said that its conclusion was that the matter should proceed to disciplinary action.

“The analysis of the biological passport of Mr Jonathan Tiernan-Locke by the Experts Panel has demonstrated an anti-doping rule violation (use of prohibited substances and/or methods),” the UCI statement read.

“Consequently and in compliance with the UCI Anti-Doping Rules, the UCI has requested his National Federation to initiate disciplinary proceedings.”

British Cycling has passed the case over to UK Anti Doping, which will make the ruling on the matter.

Smith has raised questions about the case, saying that suggestions that the bio passport irregularities dated back to the Tour of Britain are misleading.

“He never got blood tested during the Tour of Britain, it was all urine tests,” he said. “The only blood test while he was riding under Endura colours was when he agreed to go to Jonathan Vaughters [Team Garmin Sharp’s manager – ed.] to get tested. I think it was at the middle of March 2012. That has been documented and there were no irregularities. He [Vaughters] wanted to progress and try to sign him.”

Endura Racing was a Continental level team and thus not part of the UCI’s biological passport scheme. Smith states that there was no blood testing of him at any of the races he competed at in 2012, including while winning the Tour du Haut Var and Tour of the Mediterranean.

“Jon never got [blood] tested at all when he was with Endura at the Tour of Britain. So I don’t know the details on when this irregular blood test counted for. But it wasn’t while racing under Endura at that time.”

Tiernan Locke yesterday said he was innocent and indicated that he would fight the decision.

In the interview below Smith gives his thoughts on the UCI’s request for disciplinary action, claiming that the governing body must act after the Tiernan Locke news was released in order to safeguard the future of the biological passport. He explains why he is convinced Tiernan Locke is clean, why he thinks he could yet be cleared by UK Anti Doping, and the reason why he believes the rider’s 2013 was far quieter than his standout 2012 season.


VeloNation: One of Endura Racing’s former riders, Jon Tiernan Locke, will face a disciplinary process after the UCI said it believed he committed a doping violation. What is your response to this?

Brian Smith: My reaction is still the same. My personal situation is still the same. I am backing him 100 percent, he is not a doper.

I know that some cycling press are saying that the test in question relates back to the Tour of Britain last year. But he never got blood tested during the Tour of Britain, it was all urine tests.

The only blood test while he was riding under Endura colours was when he agreed to go to Jonathan Vaughters [Team Garmin Sharp’s manager – ed.] to get tested. I think it was at the middle of March 2012. That has been documented and there were no irregularities. He wanted to progress and try to sign him.

Jon never got [blood] tested at all when he was with Endura at the Tour of Britain. So I don’t know the details on when this irregular blood test counted for. But it wasn’t while racing under Endura at that time.

His last race with the team was at the Tour of Britain, although he was contracted until the end of the year. His only other race after the Tour of Britain was the worlds. So whether he was tested around about the worlds or tested after the worlds…I don’t know these details.

VN: So to your knowledge, he didn’t have a single blood test in any of the races he competed in with the team?

BS: No blood test was taken from Jon Tiernan Locke by the UCI until at least after the Tour of Britain. I can’t confirm beyond that. But while he was racing with Endura [until mid September – ed.], he had no blood tests, apart from the blood test with Garmin when he visited them in Girona.

So the speculation about it being a blood test around the Tour of Britain is not true.

VN: The Sunday Times was the original source of the story and also that timeframe, in terms of when the suspected blood value was supposed to have originated from.

Jon went to a Sky training camp at some point – what was Sky’s interaction with him last year, and is there a possibility that that team carried out a blood test then?

BS: I didn’t have a lot to do with the Sky stuff. I know Brailsford initially contacted me. I didn’t like the way they initially approached Jon Tiernan Locke. The deal was done quite early….the contract was agreed, but wasn’t signed for a long time.

With the speculation with Jon [because of his good results – ed.], we were trying to get him on the blood passport, and pay for that to happen. I was told [by the UCI] that couldn’t happen. Myself and Endura were under the impression that as he was going to be signing for Sky and as he had gone to their training camp in Tenerife, that blood tests would be done.

You’d need to check that with the team, but while the intention was to do a blood test, I don’t think they got around to doing that.

The only blood test he had while racing under Endura Racing was with Garmin. Everything else was urine testing.

VN: Have you had any contact with him since this started, and how is he handling this mentally?

BS: Well, this has clearly been a bit of a bombshell. It has been hanging over him for some period of time. He seems to be dealing with it. Where he gets his strength from is that he has done nothing wrong. He can hold his head up and say that.

The thing is, if the blood passport scheme fails, it is very tough for the UCI. The UCI obviously has to back the scheme. Any anomaly or any irregularity is always going to cause them to say, ‘there is no grey area in this, there is only black and white.’ So if these three scientists can’t explain why this happened, and if Jon can’t explain at this moment in time the evidence why it did happen, they are in a situation where they have to make a decision.

I think this is why it dragged on for so long as nobody could say ‘you definitely took this, you definitely took that.’ Nobody knows. It is an anomaly and an irregularity and that means that there is only one way for this to be decided [by the UCI]…it has to be black.

Court cases are thrown out because there is no evidence to show guilt. Now it will go to British Cycling and they will set up an independent committee….

VN: …yes, UK Anti Doping will take it on…

BS: …The good thing about that is that it is not under the UCI passport. There is a wee bit of a conflict of interest there [as regards the UCI and it defending the biological passport]. But anything in a grey area will always be a negative [in an independent hearing].

Jon Tiernan LockeVN: This news became public long before it normally would have. Do you feel that has put the UCI in a difficult position, making it more likely that it would bring about a case?

BS: Well, it is not going to help. This is about Jon Tiernan Locke and irregular blood values. It is not political in any way. It is not about Endura, not about Sky. And that potentially could be a minefield of passing the buck and things like that.

This is purely a rider who knows he is innocent, who has given samples at some point. I don’t know when the dates are, but he has only given a small amount of blood tests in the passport…he has only been on it for about a year.

One of the tests have shown an irregularly and that is enough for the UCI. They cannot back down on this, they cannot let him off with an irregularly because if someone else comes up with an irregularly, they have to let him off as well.

The UCI has to stand by the blood passport scheme.

VN: Obviously you worked with Jon in the past. What makes you convinced that he is on the level – why are you so adamant that he has done nothing wrong?

BS: When he won the Tour of the Med and Haut Var, I had a frank conversation with him. Within the team we had a no doping policy, which meant that if anybody had any suspicion [about someone else] they had to come to me, otherwise the team would have folded there and then. Everybody would have been outside a job.

For Jon to do something…the period in question is, I assume, when he was at training camp in La Molina in the Pyrenees and at the Tour of Britain. Jon wasn’t getting paid a great deal of money. To get a blood booster and things like that, I can only presume that you would have to have somebody helping you outside the team. Nobody on the team would help. You would have some refrigerated box or something like that. But there were no suspicions at all during the whole year with Jon. He was getting the performances.

Having talked to riders and knowing how Endura works, and having no rider come to me and say to me ‘I think this rider is doing something, I’ve seen this and seen that’ – nothing came at all. That is what backs me up.

We were a close team and we worked hard. There was a no-doping policy and if they had any suspicions, they had to come to me.

I had people come to me and speak confidentially about some things – not one of them every brought up any doping thing. It was always materials or clothing or race programme. That was the only concerns. There were no doping concerns whatsoever.

VN: Looking back, how do you feel about the fact that the UCI didn’t accept the request for bio passport testing of Jon? Is this something that frustrates you at this point in time?

BS: I don’t know. Jon could have had blood tests done, but it looks as if the irregularity in the blood test was after the Tour of Britain. I don’t know when, whether it was the week after, whether it was two months after. Sky are saying the test in question was before he became part of the team. If so, it has to be either in October, November or December that a blood test was taken with irregular values.

Consider if that blood test is showing irregular values. He already had his contract with Sky. He knew they are against doping. Why would he do something late on in the year? He already knew he had a contract.

This makes no sense. Looking at it with common sense, it doesn’t add up. That just confirms things for me.

Jon is not the sort of person that would do something in the winter period. Anyway, I don’t know when this test was done…that is the thing. Nobody has given that evidence at the moment, but it could come out in the future. We just have to go on what we have got for now.

VN: You say you believe he is innocent, but he’s facing this UKAD process. How do you believe Jon Tiernan Locke can fight this now? Does he need big lawyers, and what will it involve?

BS: The thing is that Jon has not got all the money in the world. He has already paid for some specialists to try to help him with this. He has already paid out a bit, but he will do what it takes to clean his name.

At the end of the day, he is up against the blood passport and the UCI, where there is no grey area. But with an irregularity, an anomaly [rather than an outright positive test – ed.], there is always going to be a grey area. Unless you can convince these three people [the UCI’s biological passport experts –ed]…and a lot of the press and the public have already condemned him…if you let someone off, then the blood passport scheme is flawed in the future if something like this comes up again.

So the UCI has to do this…I think that is why it dragged on so much. Now Jon is up against UK Anti Doping, and they don’t have a blood passport scheme. They will just look at the facts and if they cannot decide, then they will have to use their common sense.

Jon Tiernan LockeLook, if they are suspecting he is using a blood booster, you only have to look at the tests he did during the Tour of Britain. A blood booster would have some up in any of the urine tests, wouldn’t it? Any EPO or CERA or anything like that would have come up with a urine test, just like I assume it happened in the Tour of Turkey with these riders. [note – microdosing EPO can sidestep positive urine test results, while autologous blood transfusions are undetectable, even under blood testing – ed.]

So he has been urine tested all year. There is no blood booster or no nothing. So why would you take a blood booster at the end of the season?

There are only two ways of an irregularly [through doping]. You are doing blood transfusions or you are taking a booster.

I was there in the Lincoln hospital after Jon broke his collarbone and was injured. He is squeamish when it comes to needles, he doesn’t like them. Knowing him as a person, again he is totally against doping. Taking blood out and putting blood back in? That is not Jon.

As far as I am concerned, he doesn’t have access to these types of people or have thoughts of doing things. Everything he did was hard work. It is just a shame that this has happened, an irregularly during the winter. I know he spent a wee bit of time on the piss in the winter, just relaxing, and going to a lot of dinners.

I don’t know when that test was – would excess alcohol have any influence on it? If that is the test he had at the end of last year and there is an irregularity, then obviously common sense has to prevail here.

VN: Well, we do know that the biological passport system does not look just for one value, it is a pattern over time…

BS: He is only recently on it and we don’t know when he started on it. We don’t know when that blood was taken. But we know that the Garmin test showed no irregularity, and Jonathan Vaughters is happy with the figures that he looked at.

VN: Did Garmin Sharp actually get to the point where they offered a contract?

BS: I think both Garmin and Sky were happy with signing Jon. You would have to speak to his agent [Andrew McQuaid] if there was an offer there [from Garmin]. But I think there was an offer.

VN: Had he already got the deal before the Tour of Britain, or was that win what sealed it?

BS: No, there was no pressure on the Tour of Britain at all. In fact, the Tour of Britain pressure came only from me. I believed that we could win it. Jon wasn’t in the form that he was in at the start of the year. I knew that and we tried to go with a two-pronged attack to take the pressure off Jon.

But for Endura, it wasn’t all about the Tour of Britain either. If Jon had done well, if we had won a stage or something in it, that would have been good. But if we didn’t come out without the win, it wouldn’t have made any difference at all.

Luckily we had Jon in there with good form and the course suited him in the end, and the way the racing went was good. If Jon was riding in the same form this year, Bradley still would have won. It is the competition he was up against. He was up against a couple of decent riders, but not big A listers.

I think the way the racing panned out was important. [Leopold] König was a big danger but with the crash on the first day, he lost a bit of time. That made things easier.

There was no pressure on Jon at all towards the end of last year. He had his contract. In fact, I don’t know when he signed his contract, but it was pretty much agreed very early on. I think in April, and that is what he was going to do.

VN: His 2013 season was far quieter than his 2012. What do you put that down to?

BS: Obviously Jon was apprehensive going into the best team in the world, Sky. The way Jon works is he cannot be pressured into being doing anything. I know at the training camp [before the Tour of Britain in 2012] that he felt tired and he didn’t want to ride one day. I told Alex San Vega to tell him that he didn’t have to do the efforts that day, but if he didn’t ride that day, he wouldn't do the Tour of Britain. It is a team effort, and that’s all.

He rode that day. I know how Jon his – his head fell off at Castilla y Leon and he didn’t dig in, he just gave up right away. Jon is not a Grand Tour rider…he is a one day rider, or a rider for short stage race. He cannot cope with a lot of workload, he can’t deal with that.

Jon Tiernan LockeAnyway, when he started with Team Sky and trained hard, what he did was he got sick. When he came back, he trained hard and got sick again. We were quite lucky with Endura that the level of racing was right for him… He needs to feel relaxed going into a race and refreshed, not tired. He was training very hard [and got run down].

He went back to his old ways of training, which I told him all year that he should do. You don’t just come out, win one day races and Haut Var and that and then next year really struggle. I felt that Sky possibly let him down when it came down to the training…they should have maybe listened to the rider rather than just going by figures.

But he was looking forward to this year. He was over in Majorca recently and showed some very good form and motivation, so this is not timed well for him now.

VN: People may ask questions of the Endura team now, or at least of Jon last year. How do you feel about that?

BS: It’s a little bit frustrating. It will also come into question. But now I can understand why with an anomaly, an irregularity and the way that cycling has positioned itself for the good, sometimes they have to discipline people that maybe…. I don’t know enough about other people, but they have to draw a line somewhere. They UCI has got pressure on to draw the line. You can’t have an anomaly, an irregularity.

It is frustrating for me. I know he is clean, he knows he is clean, his management knows that he is clean, Endura knows that he is clean, yet he has to go through all this. I feel sorry for him, foremost, but I can understand why the UCI has to go through this process.

That is what they have set themselves up for, to get rid of all the dopers. But he is not a doper and he shouldn’t really be classed alongside previous dopers in the past.

Myself and Endura are backing him the whole way. We haven’t changed from the last time. He is still the same, he is not a doper. The irregularity hasn’t been confirmed by the UCI – ‘he did this’. An irregularity [rather than a positive test – ed.] means it is difficult to prove.

Now he has got another couple of months to try to get more specialists, spend more money in trying to get it sorted out. But when something is not proven, it is taken as guilty [by the UCI]. In court when it is not proven, it is thrown out. But the UCI can’t have that in the blood passport. Not proven is guilty as far as they are concerned. So that is the difficulty that you have got.

VN: You were saying that you didn’t know the date that the particularly anomaly occurred. Does Jon himself know?

BS: I believe that through the letters and the process they have done, that Sky and Jon know the details on that. But I don’t know the details.

The UCI are under no obligation to release this detail either.

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