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The British rider says an evening of celebration was to blame for irregular blood sample, rider confirmed banned by UKAD

Jonathan Tiernan-Locke has claimed that a night of celebration with his girlfriend, in which he consumed 33 units of alcohol after going on a drinking binge, was to blame for irregular blood values in his biological passport which has seen him banned from competitive cycling for two years and sacked by Team Sky.

The claim was revealed today when the National Anti Doping Panel of UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) published its official ruling and reasoning behind last month’s decision to ban him from competitive cycling for two years from 1 January 2014.

It also fined him 70 per cent of his gross income during 2012, amounting to £15,400, and stripped him of his 2012 Tour of Britain overall victory and his 19th place in that year’s UCI Road World Championships in the Netherlands, where he was the first British rider across the line following a race in which he went on the attack alongside riders including Alberto Contador.

The mammoth bender the 29-year-old maintains he embarked on took place in the week between that Tour of Britain win, when he was riding for Endura Racing and the road worlds, with the night out in Bristol to celebrate his securing a lucrative two-year contract with Team Sky.

According to evidence presented by Tiernan-Locke at the hearing, he downed the best part of two bottles of wine over dinner with his girlfriend. Visiting several bars afterwards, he said he drank both wine and spirits, including six or seven double measures of gin before moving on to vodka.

The exact amount that the cyclist drank is unknown – both his and his girlfriend’s recollection was perhaps understandably hazy – but he said the volume, while excessive, wasn't unusual and that his "normal off-season binge drinking would include a full bottle of spirits followed by further drinks in bars."

His former manager at Endura Racing, Brian Smith, said in evidence that some leading riders do drink heavily, even during the racing season.

Dr. Kingsley Hampton, the expert who supported Tiernan-Locke's claims throughout the hearing told the panel that the cyclist had an alcoholic intake total of 335 grams - over 33 units - which led to "an acute severe toxic insult to the physiological system."

This, he said, resulted in severe dehydration, inhibiting the release of reticulocytes from the rider's bone marrow, and decreasing the volume of plasma in the blood, reducing his haemoglobin concentration.

The rider said that apart from a few sips of water when he took painkillers, he had nothing to eat or drink the next day when he flew to Maastricht to hook up with the other members of the Great Britain team.

Tiernan-Locke insisted that severe dehydration between the night out on 20 September and a blood sample being taken two days later contributed to the abnormal blood values.

However, the National Anti Doping Panel did not agree with his explanation and concluded that the sample's concentration of haemoglobin and the percentage of immature blood cells (reticulocytes) were well outside the expected parameters for the rider.

It said that on the balance of the evidence presented, while it could not dismiss his account of drinking to excess on the night of 20 September it was unable to accept the explanation advanced by Dr. Kingsley Hampton on behalf of Tiernan-Locke that he was severely dehydrated two days later.

It added that it was “inconceivable” that a professional cyclist set to make his debut in a World Championships would not have made sure that by the time he reached the team hotel, he would have ensured that he had drunk enough water to overcome any hangover.

The report said "the values disclosed in the testing... would be compelling evidence of the use of a prohibited substance or method, unless explained by some other factor."

The panel rejected Dr. Hampton’s assumptions regarding Tiernan-Locke’s supposed dehydration as “not actually substantiated by the evidence.”

It added: “It is the combination of the two factors, both an abnormally high Hb [haemoglobin] and an abnormally low level of reticulocytes, neither of which can be explained, which compels the conclusion that a prohibited method or substance had been used by the rider.”

Tiernan-Locke has the right to appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, with any such application needing to be made within one month of receipt of the panel's decision.

Elliot joined team road.cc bright eyed, bushy tailed, and straight out of university.

Raised in front of cathode ray tube screens bearing the images of Miguel Indurain and Lance Armstrong, Elliot's always had cycling in his veins.
His balance was found on a Y-framed mountain bike around South London suburbs in the 90s, while his first taste of freedom came when he claimed his father's Giant hybrid as his own at age 16.

When Elliot's not writing for road.cc two wheels are still his favoured mode of transport; these days over the undulating streets of Madrid.

78 comments

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jova54 [648 posts] 1 year ago
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So that's:

33 single shots of whisky or
11 pints of beer 0r
16.5 glasses of red wine
or any combination of above  36

Maybe he should have taken some advice from Brad on managing his alcohol intake  103

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Joeinpoole [439 posts] 1 year ago
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Surely the effect of consuming alcohol on 'blood passport' samples could be quite easily tested? Probably wouldn't be short of volunteers to be 'tested' either.

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Tovarishch [59 posts] 1 year ago
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When he popped back into the scene I just took one look at the way he was riding and I knew 100% that he was loaded up to the eyeballs. He had basically been off the bike for five years and had a reputation for bouncing off the walls of the nightclubs during that time.

The Secret Pro

I'm not sure whose version of events that supports.

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ratattat [52 posts] 1 year ago
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Is any information available on what levels were irregular? Or do they not publish this ??

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Paul J [865 posts] 1 year ago
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ratattat: I don't think the ADOs can publish the nitty gritty details, it's quite personal data. JTL could publish it if he wanted though.

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mr-andrew [300 posts] 1 year ago
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I can't help but think that he's grasping at straws. Blood tests will either detect raised hemo levels or specific chemicals, and I doubt alcohol could throw things that far out - or pro teams would ban it outright - something along the lines of asthma inhalers.

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stereojet [143 posts] 1 year ago
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He'll be blaming it on his phantom twin next...

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farrell [1950 posts] 1 year ago
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farrell [1950 posts] 1 year ago
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stereojet wrote:

He'll be blaming it on his phantom twin next...

His twin has already protested his innocence.

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fennesz [132 posts] 1 year ago
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So the conclusion is: to be a better cyclist, get smashed. Right, I'll give that a go. Clearly I've not being drinking enough - I max out at ~20 units (2 bottles of red).

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arrieredupeleton [575 posts] 1 year ago
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fennesz wrote:

So the conclusion is: to be a better cyclist, get smashed. Right, I'll give that a go. Clearly I've not being drinking enough - I max out at ~20 units (2 bottles of red).

I see where you are coming from but sadly that's not the conclusion. The reasoned decision explains that his argument was he got so pissed that when the sample was taken he was hungover, thus dehydrated and this apparently inhibits the production of reticulocytes and increases haemoglobin. Thus his results were 'wildly abnormal'. However, the science espoused by JTL's doctor is bobbins. UKAD state that he probably took EPO before the Tour of Britain and stopped 10-14 days before the sample.

However, what I can't understand is why no trace of EPO was found in his samples? Can someone explain that bit?

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Paul J [865 posts] 1 year ago
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Fascinating read that decision. Well spotted & thanks farrell.

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zanf [795 posts] 1 year ago
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fennesz wrote:

So the conclusion is: to be a better cyclist, get smashed.

And then dont drink any water for the day afterwards while on your way to a 260km race.

Just read the report that farrell posted and Im chuckling....

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farrell [1950 posts] 1 year ago
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mattsccm [327 posts] 1 year ago
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Because the system works on presumed guilt of anything unexplained shows up. Strange really.
JTL aside I await with interest the day when a rider goes to the ECHR or what ever to contest a decision that says "you can't prove that you were not at the scene of the crime so you did it".

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ratattat [52 posts] 1 year ago
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DETAILS OF EVIDENCE GIVEN AND REASONS FOR CONCLUSION OF DOPING:

In conjunction with the announcement of the suspension, the UKAD has printed details of the case, including details of the abnormal blood sample plus Tiernan-Locke’s defence.

It discloses that the haemoglobin concentration was 17.9 g/dL and the percentage of immature blood cells, or reticulocytes, just 0.15%. [Editor’s note: the former reading equates to a haematocrit reading of approximately 53.7%, while standard reticulocyte levels are approximately 1%.]

According to UKAD, these “were well outside the parameters that would be expected for the rider in normal physiological circumstances. These two values combine to give a highly abnormal OFF- score value of 155.8. In the absence of a plausible explanation from the rider it is alleged that the inevitable inference is that he had engaged in some form of doping to increase his haemoglobin levels.”

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arrieredupeleton [575 posts] 1 year ago
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If that's true, the Bjarne Riis himself would be proud of that.

Good point about the World Champs. Clearly, getting shitfaced doesn't stop you finishing with Sagan, Gerrans et al 5 seconds down on the winner - provided you've got some EPO in the system. Although, it takes some front to walk onto a plane with Sky staff and riders and nurse the mother of all hangovers. I can't believe Mr Marginal Gains missed that  31

I think the interesting thing is that despite speculation, JTL didn't rely on his history with illness as part of his defence. Sadly, that and the proximity of the biggest race of his life makes me think its a concocted story.

I sincerely hope he trains well and tries to come back clean. Whatever his level.

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arrieredupeleton [575 posts] 1 year ago
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Thanks Paul J. It's like the late 1990's and the 50% rule all over again.

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dp24 [201 posts] 1 year ago
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Whilst I have reservations over this system of presumed guilt, JTL's story is pretty implausible, and there is a paucity of any credible evidence by his expert to back it up.

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Jimmy Ray Will [452 posts] 1 year ago
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I am surprised by this... Well, not that surprised, but there you go..

If he had a Haematocrit value of 53%, why was he not stopped from racing then and there? And indeed why did nothing come out until several months later?

Now, I'm not saying he wasn't guilty as sin (even though my personal bias does support him), but if his values were so 'whack' why was it left nearly a year?

You can say it was to build up some history on his passport, but that wasn't needed with a Haematocrit beyond the legal limit, and at least this should have been flagged to SKY at that time.... maybe it was.

My take away on this is that Mr Tinkoff is actually right... the system is letting teams down... if the UCI have information available, it needs to be made aware to the teams in some way before they commit to lengthy contracts.

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Paul J [865 posts] 1 year ago
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arrieredupeleton wrote:

However, what I can't understand is why no trace of EPO was found in his samples? Can someone explain that bit?

Because EPO is metabolised rapidly by your body. The foreign rhEPO is pretty much gone within 12 hours, so far as being able to reliably detect it with a test goes. The effects of EPO, stimulating blood cell production, can last much longer - blood cells live for months, so it can take a good number of weeks for the body's normal balance to be restored.

Reticulocytes are young blood cells. They are produced in the bone marrow and take about 7 days to mature into blood cells. Taking additional EPO hyper-stimulates reticulocyte production, so the %age of reticulocytes in the blood increae, and ultimately this leads to increased concentration of blood cells in the blood - which is what helps performance. Your own body will suppress its own EPO production in response of course.

When the athlete stops taking the foreign EPO, that leads to a period where their own EPO hormone production is suppressed, as the body seeks to restore the balance in blood values. As a consequence, the %age of reticulocytes in the blood can drop dramatically. It takes longer for those additional mature blood cells that were previously produced as a consequence of taking EPO to die, and for blood values to go back to normal, of course. E.g. haematocrit stays raised for at least a couple of weeks, if not longer.

JTL's value of 0.15% is pretty low. Values outside 0.5 to 1.5% would be a bit unusual, and normal values are more around 1%.

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Jimmy Ray Will [452 posts] 1 year ago
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Tovarishch wrote:

When he popped back into the scene I just took one look at the way he was riding and I knew 100% that he was loaded up to the eyeballs. He had basically been off the bike for five years and had a reputation for bouncing off the walls of the nightclubs during that time.

The Secret Pro

I'm not sure whose version of events that supports.

Unfortunately, the quoted paragraph kind of highlights the ignorance of the author... I remember beating JTL into second (check me the feck out!) at a circuit race in 2008. He didn't worry about the result as 2nd earned him his Elite licence... So he's been back on it for at least 4 seasons before his stella season.

My understanding is that Jon has always liked partying, so I can imagine after winning the TOB and signing with Sky, he'd have gone on a massive bender... His ride at the Worlds did seem muted on reflection... That isn't a justification of the reading... just that he probably is telling the truth about the bender.

The brutal reality of pro cycling and pro cyclists is that whilst we love to think of them all living like monks, the truth is, they are just rich (relatively), young men, full of testosterone, an extremist attitude and sense of immortality... They are seriously that good that they can do with a hangover what we can't even imagine doing with the best prep in the world.

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Sam1 [220 posts] 1 year ago
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Tovarishch: The Secret Pro (or combo of sources) are presented as a WT rider, and supposedly an Aussie at that. I doubt that whatever JTL was doing on the UK scene back in 2008 registered one jot...

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Sam1 [220 posts] 1 year ago
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Sam1 [220 posts] 1 year ago
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Jimmy Ray Will wrote:

I am surprised by this... Well, not that surprised, but there you go..

If he had a Haematocrit value of 53%, why was he not stopped from racing then and there? And indeed why did nothing come out until several months later?

Now, I'm not saying he wasn't guilty as sin (even though my personal bias does support him), but if his values were so 'whack' why was it left nearly a year?

You can say it was to build up some history on his passport, but that wasn't needed with a Haematocrit beyond the legal limit, and at least this should have been flagged to SKY at that time.... maybe it was.

My take away on this is that Mr Tinkoff is actually right... the system is letting teams down... if the UCI have information available, it needs to be made aware to the teams in some way before they commit to lengthy contracts.

Because the HCT max ruling was dead and dusted a long time ago.

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Joelsim [1973 posts] 1 year ago
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He probably is telling the truth about the bender, but the passport doesn't lie. It's hard enough catching the cheats anyway, as stated above the EPO will be out of his system very quickly, it's possible to microdose overnight and for it to be gone by 7am, and unless they have taken a large amount the blood counts won't be too affected. That's why microdosing, IMO, is still rife.

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Chris James [372 posts] 1 year ago
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The fine and costs (point 53) in the reasoning is quite illustrative.

Find 70% of his 2012 gross income, £15,400. making a total income for 2012 of £22K.

To go from that to a contract at Sky must be a big incentive to microdose EPO.

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Simmo72 [591 posts] 1 year ago
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We need more sports to adopt the biological passport programme, the more its used, the better the system will be. I can't say if JTL's claim stands up to to anything, I can only take the experts view and making an assumption that other cyclists have been tested after going out on a all night bender.

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leqin [162 posts] 1 year ago
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I thought pro bike riders abstained from alcohol in the interest of their being a athlete and most of the peleton could get pie-eyed on a half of shandy - in fact, although I don't recall what race it was or what stage it was, I recall Carlton Kirby specifically mentioning how little alcohol they consume and it isn't a lot... even that glass of champagne they have the Tour winner swanning around with goes to their head because they have abstained for so long.

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farrell [1950 posts] 1 year ago
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Saxo Tinkoff had a few beers at their hotel during the Tour this year, If I remember correctly it was after Mick Rogers won a stage.

I think they generally abstain during a big tour (with the occasional morale booster for some riders), but aren't averse to getting on it in their down time.

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