28
Dec
09

Facts on Tom Zirbel; Clear Lake, Iowa and presumed innocence.

By now, cycling journalists and bloggers are typing furiously to put their spin on Tom Zirbel’s announcement that his “A” sample came up positive for DHEA.  While most riders who come up positive are just following the European tradition of denial, the tone and handling of Zirbel’s response rings different to me.  Right now, I believe him.  I believe that he might have ingested DHEA, but did so unknowingly.  My hope is that this doesn’t end the cycling career of somebody who just reached new heights.

Because the national pro scene doesn’t get nearly the coverage of the international, not nearly as much is known about Zirbel.  Let’s start with facts and declarations.  I’ll acknowledge that Tom being a Midwestern native from about 3 hours from where I live, I’ve got a bias towards his presumed honesty.  Tom is a native of Clear Lake, Iowa.

Clear Lake is a pleasant, fairly homogenous community of slightly more than 8,000.  Other than Zirbel, the only notable native listed on Wikipedia is Milo Knutson, a Wisconsin mayor and member of the State Senate.  The only real notable thing to have ever happened in Clear Lake was the last concert before “The Day the Music Died.”  Zirbel eschewed larger state colleges and stayed close to home.  He attended Wartburg College, a small Lutheran liberal arts college where he ran track/cross country all four years and occasionally studied chemistry.  After college, he moved to Boulder with the intention of continuing to run competitively before knee pain forced him to switch athletic pursuits; he climbed on a road bike in early 2003.  His passion and previous track training helped him make the transition to a successful domestic pro.  One of his old team bios lists Tom as “the heaviest rider in the domestic pro peleton” and that he “crashed in 8 percent of the races” he started in 2006.  All things pointing to somebody with a moral code and not consumed with chasing greatness.

Most fans had the revelation of watching Zirbel ride during the 2009 Worlds where he did two things.  First, he led the race early and sat on the ‘hot seat’ for about 3 hours.  Second, he turned himself inside out to accomplish that.  The man honked all over himself during the effort and in his desire to stay aero, apparently didn’t want to turn his head and avoid the mess.  You have to respect that.

And of all the drugs to be caught for, DHEA.  DHEA entered cycling’s consciousness when Tyler Hamilton wanted to get caught and wanted it to be over.  While it’s a banned substance from cycling, it’s something any of us can walk into GNC and buy as a supplement.  It isn’t without controversy, but other than sex drive, has little documented benefit outside of manufacturing claims.

To think it isn’t manufactured on the same equipment that makes whey powder or endurance drinks is naive.  Yes, athletes have to be very responsible for what goes into their body.  But shy of keeping a mortar and pestle around, athletes cannot control the production process of products they believe to be pure for their purposes.

In the end, Zirbel came out and said that he came up positive, didn’t knowingly ingest DHEA, attended his B sample opening, is working to track how this could have happened and obviously hoping the B comes back negative.  The tone comes across as a little bewildered and a little ‘aw shucks’, but honest.  Garmin quietly terminated his contract and he was left off the announced 2010 roster.

I’m hoping for the best for Tom.  My gut tells me that unfortunately, that won’t happen.  By the time any probable cause to prove innocence could be generated, a 2 year suspension will have gone by, Zirbel will be 33 and any chance to make it to Europe will have passed.   Innocence lost will be nothing more than that.

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1 Response to “Facts on Tom Zirbel; Clear Lake, Iowa and presumed innocence.”


  1. 1 Amos & Rachel Wood
    December 29, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    This article is the most fair we’ve read regarding Tom Zirbel’s innocence. We absolutely know that Tom would never, ever compromise his integrity by stooping to artificial means to increase his abilities on his bike. He relies on hard work and more hard work only to make the progress he has and will continue to work hard at whatever he does. There’s something else yet undiscovered that will prove his innocence.


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