Tiernan-Locke. Bad blood?
Maybe Garmin’s MBA student Jonathan Vaughters even cracked a little smile.
With news that the UCI is opening a biological passport case against Sky’s Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, Sky’s clean team image takes a hit. While it’s nothing compared to the PR mess brought on by the doping admissions of the Garmin fab-four, it’s the same kind of bummer.
While Locke’s alleged transgression occurred when he rode for Endura and not Sky, the fall-out still damages the zero tolerance policy that Sky boss David Brailsford installed at Sky from day one.
Sky has been quick to repeat, repeat, repeat that Locke was not with Sky when his blood parameters became suspicious, but there’s still some confusion about whether Sky shoulda, coulda known.
It’s an echo of the embarrassing Geert Leinders situation where Sky had hired the doctor only to learn at a later date he was an integral part of Rabobank’s doping program. That kind of oops was quite an oversight for the tightly scripted and scientific Team Sky. Did they not crunch Locke’s numbers enough?
Did Sky slip up by signing Locke after what some critics saw as a suspiciously amazing 2012 season at Endura where he won the Tour of the Mediterranean, the Tour du Haut-Var and Tour of Britain? Not too shabby for a rider who years before had been suffering from the Epstein-Barr virus.
Perhaps Sky was hoping Locke would provide them an exciting variant on the Froome-bilharzia story — from virus to Tour winner again! (It’s not the Lance Armstrong cancer story but then again we know how that myth exploded.) In pro cycling, too good to be true has often turned out to be too good to be true.
Brian Smith, the manager at Tiernan-Locke’s Endura team in 2012 told cyclingnews that “Sky, Garmin and Endura all thought there were no irregularities with Jonathan.” Irregularities are tricky things to pin down due to their confounding … irregularities.
Most likely there is little more that Sky could have done with Locke before signing him last season. They studied his blood parameters, Brailsford asked him some pointed questions and their sports psychologist Steve “Inner Chimp” Peters picked Locke’s brain. They didn’t see any red flags.
Perhaps the biggest victim in this story is Tour de France winner Chris Froome. He was already run through the wood chipper after his dominant win in France. The Locke story simply gives the cynics and doubters another reason to suspect all is not clean at Sky.
Meanwhile, watching from the sidelines after the Ryder Hesjedal blow-up, Jonathan Vaughters must have gotten a chuckle out of Sky’s Locke problem. Unfairly or not, a good number of people no longer look at Garmin as the visionary clean team. We’d argue that’s just the unavoidable messiness of the transition from dark to light. Vaughters believes in redemption while Brailsford prefers rejection. In our view, zero tolerance just leads to more creative lies.
Locke will have his day in court and perhaps he succeeds in explaining those irregularities. We’ll stick with innocent until proven guilty — although in the media that’s really tarnished until your image is wrecked forever.