Team Sky’s Jonathan Tiernan-Locke has been asked by the UCI to explain discrepancies in his biological passport data.
According to The Sunday Times [£], the apparent irregularities cover the final four months of the 2012 season, when he was riding for Endura Racing, a period in which he won the overall at the Tour of Britain.
On Thursday, Tiernan-Locke was withdrawn from the Great Britain squad for today’s world championship road race in Tuscany, with Team Sky colleague Luke Rowe replacing him.
No reasons were given for the change to the line-up by British Cycling.
In a statement issued this morning, however, Team Sky confirmed that the 28-year-old from Devon is under investigation and that “he has withdrawn from racing whilst his response to the UCI is prepared then considered by the UCI.
The team added: "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.
"At this stage in the ongoing process we will not add any further detail."
This time last year, Tiernan-Locke went into the world championship as Great Britain’s protected rider, and along with riders including Spain’s Alberto Contador was a protagonist in the break that formed in the latter part of the race.
He had come to the attention of the sport’s top teams at the start of 2012 when he took the overall victory in early season French races the Tour du Haut Var, including winning one stage, and the Tour Mediterranéen, where he took two stages.
Tiernan-Locke had shown promise early in his career before putting his racing on hold for three years as he recovered from a debilitating virus and concentrated on his studies.
But his success saw questions raised about the performances of a cyclist riding for a third tier team; prior to its merger with NetApp at the end of 2012, Scotland-based Endura Racing was registered at UCI Continental level.
French sports daily L’Equipe wrote at the time: “Are we in the presence of a champion or a chimera? Tiernan-Locke can only be one or the other to win five races in a row.
“He’s part of a team from the third division, a category where the riders don’t have to submit to biological monitoring, via the blood passport programme of the Union Cycliste Internationale.”
According to The Sunday Times, Tiernan-Locke, who has not so far got back into the form that attracted him to Sky in the first place, began to undergo regular blood tests at the time he won the Tour of Britain.
It says that while the blood values recorded in the final four months of 2012 were not in themselves suspicious, when combined with those registered after he joined Team Sky, they are sufficient to warrant further investigation.
The rider has three weeks from the date he received the UCI’s letter to respond to its concerns, and his explanation will be scrutinised by the same three-person committee that initially flagged the concerns.
Should they decide further action is required, the issue will be passed to an 11-member committee comprising experts who will determine whether disciplinary action is required.
The Sunday Times reports that Tiernan-Locke is the first current Sky rider to have been involved in an anti-doping investigation.
However, the home of the Italian rider Morris Possoni, who rode for the British WorldTour outfit in 2010 and 2011, was raided by Italian police investigating alleged links to banned doctor Michele Ferrari in April 2011.
Last year, Team Sky came under heavy criticism of its employment on a part-time basis of Belgian doctor Geert Leinders, and it subsequently terminated its involvement with him.
Shortly after announcing his retirement last year, former Sky rider Michael Barry was revealed to be one of the witnesses who testified against Lance Armstrong and others as part of the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s investigation.
The fallout from that inquiry also resulted in race coach Bobby Julich and sports director Stephen De Jongh leave Sky after admitting to having doped during their racing careers.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.