CYCLING FIGURES at home and abroad, as well as friends and supporters of Jon Tiernan-Locke, have reacted with anger at what the 'leak' of the UCI letter which has asked the popular South Devon pro to explain differences in his blood levels over the past 12 months.
Former Mid-Devon CC/Colin Lewis Cycles star Locke, who now rides for the world's top-rated Team Sky Procycling, has not been accused of drug-taking.
Nor has the 2012 Tour of Britain winner ever failed any of the many tests he's taken.
Yet the request for information from the sport's ruling body (Union Cycliste Internationale) ended up as a drug-related double-page spread by David Walsh in last weekend's Sunday Times, as well as rivalling defeats for Manchester United and Manchester City on the front page of the Sports Section.
There was no suggestion in the story that Locke's autumn 2012 blood levels were unusually or suspiciously high, just that they were different from his 2013 levels.
"The letter has to have been leaked, and it causes me great disquiet," said Colin Lewis, the former national champion and Tour de France pro who has advised Locke throughout his career.
"Jon is completely innocent – I've got no millisecond of doubt about that.
"Of course his blood levels are different this year from last.
"He had a wonderful 2012, when everything went right for him medically and health-wise.
"This year he's had a 20 per cent increase in training, plus a diet to try and get him to lose too much weight.
"That, coupled with the amount of work in races, has caused his body to react.
"So his blood levels won't be anything like what they were last year – that's one of the big reasons why he hasn't been going so well.
"This looks to me like a big smokescreen brought up by some people to try and deflect attention from where they are."
The UK's new UCI president Brian Cookson, who has just beaten Irishman Pat McQuaid to the post in a hard-fought election, said: "I'm concerned that the letter has been leaked because I don't think this information should be in the public domain while someone is only being questioned.
"That's not the same at all as them being guilty."
Simon Aske, Locke's friend and former employer at Paignton's Colin Lewis Cycles, spoke of his 'disgust' at the way the UCI letter – similar inquiries have been made to many other riders without publicity – had been revealed.
"Jon's name is just dragged down now, and it disgusts me about the way people out there are even questioning him."
Brian Smith, Locke's manager at Endura Racing where he reeled off a series of spectacular international victories last season, revealed that Locke had twice asked to be given one of the UCI's 'biological passports' before he won the Tour of Britain 12 months ago.
He was refused on the grounds that he was riding only for a 'Continental' ranked team and not a ProTour one.
"I am 100 per cent certain he is clean," said Smith. "He was the one pushing me last year to get him on the biological passport when he heard there were rumours after he won a couple of big races.
"I know how upset he was by those rumours, and he'll be more than devastated by this."
Smith revealed that Locke had also undergone blood and urine tests during training sessions with the Garmin-Sharp and Sky teams last season, including the period covered by the UCI inquiry, and nothing untoward had been found.
Sky duly signed him in December.
Locke has refused to make any comment since announcing that he was pulling out of last Sunday's World Road Race Championships in Italy, following his receipt of the UCI letter.
Not one of the eight British riders, including the UK's two Tour de France winners Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins, finished the race in wet and windy conditions.
"I tell you one thing," said Lewis. "Jon Locke wouldn't have climbed off after a hundred miles – he was brought up on Dartmoor.
"He will come through this, he will rise above it and it will make him even more determined.
"He's back home living in Devon now, he will get a good winter under his belt and then you watch him go next year."
Torquay-based Ron Keegan, a senior member and vice-president of the Mid-Devon club, added: "The last time I spoke to Jon was about nominating him as a life member of our club.
"He said he was honoured and proud that anyone would think of it, and that when his career was over he looked forward to racing again in the Mid-Devon colours and helping other riders.
"People who are cheats don't understand about honour and pride."
Locke, 28, who has another year of his Sky contract to run, has fought back from a chronic fatigue condition, Epstein-Barr virus, which knocked him out of the sport for three years after a highly promising early career in Britain and France.
He has been prone to illness at times since, but his talent as a climber has never been in doubt and helped him to produce five major victories last year.
Asked then whether he was riding 'clean', Locke said: "Yes, 100 per cent. I don't even take supplements – I don't even believe in that stuff."
His agent Andrew McQuaid, who is the son of the former UCI president, said: "We are currently preparing the answers to the questions raised by the UCI, and we are extremely confident, once we present our answers, that the matter will be closed."
Locke and his advisers are expected to reply in the next few days to the UCI, who will then consider whether to take the matter any further.