20
Jan
10

Faulty Presumption and Cycling’s Cynical Climate.

For the record, I do not have any great personal connection with Tom Zirbel.  If he had an entourage and I was part of it, it would purely be for comedy relief purposes – the juxtaposition of me next to a guy who could rest his arm on top of my head.  From the e-mails and unpublished comments I’ve received regarding my defense of him and his plight, just like presumptions of his he-must-be-doping guilt, presuming is the wrong approach.

I will admit to becoming mentally invested in the story.  I have had a lot of contact with a number of those who know him best.  One of Tom’s last media interviews was last Sunday on the Kim West Cycling Radio Show out of Des Moines.  Before you go Google and rush to listen to pick apart every word and condemn him further, relax and try to think with an open mind.  I don’t have any Matthew McConaughey “A Time to Kill” or Matt Damon “Rainmaker” legal epiphany type arguments, but try to think back to a more innocent, pre-Festina time.  If you’re in the right frame of mind to listen, click here.  Given the comments he is making, his candor, his outlook and above all, his remarkable openness regarding the situation – do you want to lump him in with the serpent-smiling face of  “yeah, I was doped but I climbed like Pantani” Ricco?

While you’re still in this open frame of mind, cast away a number of other presumptions.  The list could be really long, but I’ll leave it to the following:

– Don’t presume to know Tom Zirbel.  You don’t personally know his motivations and ethics.  You don’t know that he about quit the sport in despair earlier last year over one of his Bissell teammates being caught.  You don’t know the encouragement he gives to kids and time to the fans.  You don’t know the teammates who have been around him and understand him better than us bystanders do.  You don’t the story of his life or his character.  Most people want to believe in every other part of life, character counts.

– Don’t presume to know Tom is a “seasoned pro” and has an education regarding nutritional supplements.  If you listen to the interview – he’s not a vitamin and supplement type guy.  He was dehydrated; he could’ve picked up nutrition bar X because he was hungry or water bottle Z because he thought it was his.  He wasn’t raised in the European doping culture.  He wasn’t on big budget for the last 9-10 years or part of some development program. He was the guy that 5 years ago would show up to race in a t-shirt.  He was the guy who couldn’t run marathons anymore so he picked up a bike.

– Don’t presume that if somebody is a pro bike racer, they must read everything written about the sport.  Just like celebrities avoid reading the tabloids, if everything written about you and your sport was negative, would you read about it?  I hope Tom or any other pro avoids most of what’s written, especially message boards where people pass personal, often times vicious judgment with no foundation other than what they’ve read.  That is, of course, if the people on boards aren’t just arguing with each other for argument’s sake.

– Don’t presume because you befriended somebody who was a former professional doper who is now “reborn”, that everybody who rides a bike dopes.  No – your new friend doped.  He was likely part of a culture that doped or in it for a significant amount of time.  Or he was so driven to succeed that his life didn’t have enough meaning off the bike to balance it.  Just like I don’t know why your buddy doped, I don’t presume to know his motivations, what tipped him over the edge or why so many reformed dopers take the approach of condemning everybody else instead of attempting to change the sport.

– Don’t presume every supplement is clean.  People quickly shove the “tainted supplement” argument aside.  However, estimates range from 10-25% of all supplements are tainted or have unlisted ingredients.  Just for fun, go to the NSF site (www.nsf.org) and look for your favorite supplement brand to see if it’s on the list for being Certified for Sport…only 21 companies are on the list.   I can think of many an endurance-specific brand that aren’t.  It’s a nightmare of an unregulated industry.

– Don’t presume anybody who is interviewed or writes on the subject is an expert.  I know I don’t have a PhD in Organic Chemistry or Medical Laboratory Science.  I’m guessing most of you don’t either.  Ironically, Zirbel is probably closer to it than 99% of us since his undergraduate degree is in chemistry was pursuing graduate studies when the peleton tugged him away.  Regardless, time to call somebody on the carpet, if for nothing else a complete lack of professionalism.  In a January 6th story on PEZ Cycling News, Paul Coats, PhD was interviewed.  When listing the reasons why Tom would have an elevated DHEA level, one of his reasons was “He is a dumb-ass: applying Occam’s razor principle (ie. the simplest explanation or strategy tends to be the best one) this seems the most likely.”  First, who with a PhD says that in a media interview?  Second, you don’t apply “Occam’s Razor principle”, you apply Occam’s Razor (I am educated in Philosophy, but that was last comment was just snide and nitpicky on my part).  Third, I will freely admit I don’t know Paul Coats, but I’m guessing his knowledge of the human body and chemistry far exceeds mine hundreds of times over.  However, Google Paul Coats.  Examine what fields he is a researcher in and what his specialties are.  Let me save you the time…”Dr Paul Coats is an active researcher within the cardiovascular (Integrated Mammalian Biology) group within SIPBS. His research focus is vascular physiology (health) and pathophysiology (disease).

The study of both large and small blood vessels is core to the research directed by Dr Paul Coats.

General research areas are:

  • Pressure-dependent autoregulation in small resistance arteries
    • The role of the vascular adventitia in modulating vascular tone
    • Modulation of acute vascular tone by reactive oxygen species
    • Myogenic autoregulation of blood flow in stroke
    • Myogenic autoregulation of blood flow in ischaemic vascular disease
  • Pressure-dependent vascular remodelling in small resistance arteries
    • Hypertensive and hypotensive remodelling of the arterial wall
  • Vascular adaptation to changes in environmental stimuli (pressure and flow)
    • In-vitro culture of intact pressurised/ perfused blood vessels
  • Effect of vascular injury on vessel structure and function”

Ironically, if you click under his “Publications” tab, it goes to a page saying nothing but “test.”

(From the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences website)

Does it sound like Paul Coats is probably a really educated, intelligent guy? Yep.  Does it sound like Paul Coats has dedicated his life studies to becoming an expert on doping and/or these type of reactions and/or specific body chemistries related to this case.  Not really.

– Don’t presume the system is perfect.  Tom came up clean both 8 days before and 3 days after this positive test.  That’s fact.  No residual metabolites 3 days later.  To deny the potential effects of his dehydration on test results and the political nature of this system is to be blind to the obvious.  Anybody who is an expert will fight to the death to retain their reputation as an expert.  In this case, the experts would have such an imbalance of resources, there isn’t any way this could be a fair fight.  While I’m happy that cycling has made great strides through the biological passport and more advanced testing, the presumption of guilt and having the same 2-year penalty for popping a cold pill as RBC-enhanced CERA-doped blood is ludicrous.

Obviously, if you’ve listened to the interview, you fully expect (as Tom conceded) that there will likely be some news regarding his B-sample probably being positive this week.  It seems he may have others in his corner within the establishment, given they took additional steps of testing outside the original lab.  I’m sure those who have already condemned Tom already have their posts ready to say “I told you so.”  He’s not railing against Darth USADA, he’s not proclaiming the evils of the system.  He’s just a guy who likes to race his bike.  Somebody you would probably like to know.  Somebody if you did, you might not presume as quickly again.

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3 Responses to “Faulty Presumption and Cycling’s Cynical Climate.”


  1. 1 Delilahdriver
    January 20, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    Thank you Jeff–The people who know Tom Zirbel agree with what you are saying.Tom has worked very hard for his successes, and whatever got into his sample on August 29, 2009 was not something he took knowingly. His suspension is not going to be a positive for the sport.

  2. 2 Jody
    January 21, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Wow, what a great entry! Thank you for taking the time to actually think about Tom’s situation instead of automatically presuming guilt for a “positive” test. I hope others do the same.

  3. 3 djz
    January 23, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    Jeff, This is Tom’s mom. I want to thank you for the articles about Tom and his situation. They are very insightful to the way he thinks and feels. I have a story you might like. Tom has a bucket list. One of the items was he wanted to hike down and up the Grand Canyon. When the time came to do it his friends couldn’t go so he went himself. He put on his backpack and started down one side and up the other. Took him 11 hours. He said he was so tired when he finished he pulled out the sleeping bag and went to sleep on the rim. He said it was fun.


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