Posts Tagged ‘dhea


Bike Pure’s semi-religious (and not in a good way) zealotry

By nature, advocates – both individuals and organizations – have a belief they are undoubtedly sure is unquestionably true, morally justified and they are passionate in its defense.   Generally, that is a good thing.  The world needs advocates on many levels to stand up and make the world a better place.  However, advocacy does have its perils and limitations. The slippery slope for advocates comes when they go from be a defender of their faith to believing they represent judge, jury and executioner.  I deliberately use the word faith to elicit the comparison to religion; any religion can look back on history and see some significant point where that line was crossed by those who believed they were ordained to carry out extremism.

To ensure there is no confusion on my stance in regards to doping and cycling, let me state unequivocally for the record – I want cycling (or any sport) to be clean and if there are rules regarding banned substances, those rules need to be adhered to and appropriate punishments should occur for those caught breaking said rules.  I believe cycling has a long-standing culture of both doping and Omerta that activism is required in order for that culture to change.  Hence the reason an organization like Bike Pure is good in concept to help change the culture of the sport.

However, Bike Pure is an advocate.  Advocates require public opinion on their side.  Unfortunately, cycling’s court of public opinion sometimes has as significant of a voice as the actual authorities; that court is cynical and believes in guilt first.

Myles McCorry of Bike Pure has crossed that line and started down the slippery slope.  At this point, he seems to have anointed himself as cycling’s doping priest, charged by a higher power to condemn, charge with sin and deliver salvation.  Anybody who has been reading my blog knows I believe in Tom Zirbel being a person of high moral character and innocent of deliberately taking synthetic DHEA.  (If you want the litany of reason and logic behind my belief, please read my past posts.)  All parties acknowledge Tom has tested positive for DHEA.  Tom “broke the story” himself.  He’s not denying what happened, he is denying the knowledge and intention.  But Myles doesn’t see it that way.

To quote Myles on his post left on Tom Zirbel’s personal blog, “If when reality bites and you want to come clean, please contact and we will give you a fair ear. Please show respect to your fellow athletes, and begin the repair.” Following the rules of logic, the only conclusion Myles has reached is that Tom is a liar and cheat in his eyes.  Myles has sugar-coated it; advocates don’t garner positive PR via public venom.  Myles (as well as many others) also states “All pros and most amateur cyclists take their training/ food/supplements seriously and know exactly, or find out the contents or everything entering their body.”  Myles also does a spectacular job of quoting the science (whether overstated or not) that makes his argument look better.  In his article on, Myles quotes an industry leader saying DHEA was the “superhormone” when it was released.  Last I checked, any time a new product is released, it generally is the greatest thing ever or a more affordable, advanced second.  Further in the article, it states that the New York Academy of Sciences carried out the “most in depth study” on DHEA.

While visuals are difficult via the web-printed word…I’m now the guy in the back of the room raising my hand and clearing my throat; I’d now like the other side to be heard.

“Athletes have to know what’s going into their body” Yes, they do – within reason. They cannot know everything – it is theoretically impossible.  Argue with me otherwise and then I’ll be forced to go to the ridiculous lengths of explaining every step of the way where contamination of any kind could take place.  To quote the opposing science, there is almost no real QA/QC to ensure any supplement isn’t at risk.  Organizations such as NSF and HFL have shown the need for supplement testing/certification and the current problem of contamination of steroids and prohormones.

Shown below are a number of quotes from the paper titled “Supplements and Banned Substance Contamination: Offering an Informed Choice” written by Drs. David Hall and Catherine Judkins, there is a problem in that “athletes have to know” equation.  (I love it when others do the much more educated writing for me”

“It is clear that all forms of supplementation should be considered as a potential source of a positive drugs test for elite athletes, as a direct result of inadvertent contamination…”

“It is neither possible nor appropriate to test supplements for “everything on the WADA Prohibited List.”

“Also, the most likely source of contamination is from materials inadvertently introduced by the raw material supplier or in manufacture.”

“Those compounds most likely…for example DHEA which is still available over the counter in the US.”

“Research has shown that steroids and stimulants banned by WADA have been found as contaminants within some supplement products.”

“WADA advise elite athletes that they should not take supplements – recommending…a balanced diet will provide…necessary nutrition”

“WADA has effectively banned WADA-accredited labs from offering….effective quality control….to avoid inadvertent contamination”

Additionally, both the IOC/WADA and independent testing bodies have done significant testing that shows how significant the contamination problem is.  For those reading, the information listed below would be the wow factor, punch line, climax…

The IOC/WADA lab in Cologne investigated contamination and purchased 634 standard retail products in 13 different countries – 15% were contaminated with steroids/pro-hormones, 20% of those purchased in the US. (International Journal of Sports Medicine 2004)

HFL tested 58 supplements purchased through standard retail in the USA in 2007 – 25% contained low levels of steroid contamination and 11% contaminated with stimulants.   DHEA was the most common (showed all positives) of the contaminants.  In an HFL Case Study – a major US manufacturer that produced DHEA product alongside other products and wanted to investigate cross contamination.  Every sample, including the men’s room tap water was positive for DHEA.

All acknowledge that DHEA is a legal supplement in the US and those who don’t think incidental contamination from raw materials, manufacturing facilities or other processes is possible is absolutely ignoring the science that doesn’t agree with their standpoint.

I don’t want to go too deep into the science for two reasons. 1) I’m not a scientist. I’m a writer and acknowledge my lack of expertise and 2) DHEA is a naturally occurring substance that does great things naturally within your body.  Unfortunately, those naturally occurring processes many times get ascribed to the supplement…I don’t want to muddy those waters further.  As far as the argument of synthetic, OTC purchased DHEA supplement’s perceived benefits – by this point, it has been clinically proven that there are about none.  It was actually semi-painful to read how far McCorry had to stretch to make some sort of performance-enhancing argument.  It ended up reading like “Tom cheated because he might not have caught a cold because of DHEA.”

However, the Mayo Clinic is pretty good at that science and medicine stuff…to quote from Mayo’s website “a 2006 Mayo Clinic study examined use of DHEA supplements in older adults over two years and found no anti-aging benefits. While DHEA levels went up to the same levels found in younger people in the study participants who took DHEA supplements, there were no differences between those who took DHEA and those who didn’t in body composition, physical performance, insulin sensitivity or quality of life.”

Given all my arguments above, I’ll restate that Bike Pure has an honorable intention, cycling has a long-standing cultural doping problem and I emphatically agree that cycling needs to be a clean sport.  I disagree when advocates, such as I believe Myles McCorry has done in this instance, cross over to blind zealotry.   I’ll step down from my soapbox and wait for the barrage of name-calling and nasty emails.


Looking for Postives in spite of the Positive

Judging from the number of emails and messages I’ve already received, most of you have read Tom Zirbel’s confirmation that his B sample came up positive.   Tom had foreshadowed this a couple weeks ago in a number of interviews, so this was not a surprise.  As has continued to be the case, Tom has been upfront with the situation with the news ‘breaking’ on his personal blog.

While Tom and those around him (seemingly also including some within the USADA who took samples to additional labs for additional tests) held out hope that the B sample would come up clean or vary enough to be inconclusive, there has been a gradual acceptance of the system’s inevitable results.

While the ‘another day, another doper’ jackals initially came out in full force, ripping at somebody they didn’t know, over time you found a significant number of people who knew him personally or knew his character well enough to come out in support of Tom’s proclaimed innocence of knowingly ingesting any USADA banned substance.  Velonews’ Ben Delaney came out in the latest issue with a supportive editorial piece, which was a welcome surprise for those supporting Tom, as most of the cycling press, much less a leader such as Velonews, has a defacto cynical response or no response at all.  Unfortunately, the only external quote Velonews on their web story today was garnered was from Jonathan Vaughters, the Garmin-Transitions boss who unceremoniously disposed of Tom’s contract via email with no contact otherwise.

Many will say that a professional athlete has to be responsible for the knowledge of what goes into their body.   While in principle, I believe that to be the case, unless an athlete decides to eat nothing but organically grown yams from their backyard garden and drinking regionally isolated, triple-distilled rainwater, an athlete cannot truly know unless only taking supplements from the limited number of companies who have submitted themselves to having their supplements certified for sport and surgically implant a video recording device to document every instance they consume anything of caloric value.  Given the degrading circumstances athletes have to go through just to submit a test sample (for those looking for photo verification, check out Comeback 2.0), one has to wonder if this could be a next step.

Conspiracy/future wacko theories aside, my comments all along on Zirbel’s case still hold true.  Tom Zirbel has demonstrated himself to those who know him to be a person of tremendous character.  He has shown that he has a well-centered outlook on life and while he enjoys racing his bike, it wasn’t the tipping point to throw his life’s balance over the precipice.

Those who point to Tom’s hiring of legal and expert assistance as the standard play of a guilty party would be well advised to do some self-examination.  If you were accused of a crime you were innocent of knowingly committing, would you do anything different?

I still believe in Zirbel’s innocence of knowingly ingesting DHEA.  I hope he’s able to find the cause of this sidetrack to his career quickly and the system can find a fair and just resolution before two of what should have been Tom’s best years pass him by on the bike.  Above all, I wish the best for Tom and those close to him as he deals with this detour on his path to success.


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 ( 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.


Zirbel keeps it light, waits for results

When the news of Tom Zirbel’s “A” sample coming up positive for DHEA came to light, my initial offering was that my impression of Tom’s handling of the issue seemed different – honest and sincere; I took his explanation of unknowing ingestion and believed him.  This wasn’t a man driven to extremes to excel, he just really enjoys competing.  His background seemed rich with what we in the Midwest call “moral fiber.”  He took the steps to come out and announce his issue, attended his “B” sample opening and having a background in chemistry, DHEA seemed to be an unusual suspect if he actually did choose to dope.  Unfortunately, most writing on Zirbel didn’t see it in the same light, preferring the dark room/bright-light-in-the-eyes approach.

On Tuesday, Tom took another unique step.   The typical approach of most riders who come up hot is a three step process – deny as they run from the media, disappear from sight with any comments through lawyers, and quietly spend two year suspension figuring out how to get back into the sport because riding bike is a lot more fun than working at a Spanish factory.  To paraphrase, Tom came out in his blog and said that life was fun; he loves racing his bike, but life goes on if this doesn’t turn out.  He thanked his fans for the support and his website for auto-removing profane comments.   He realizes most people’s instant reaction is “guilty” and doesn’t hold anybody at fault for that.  He is anxiously awaiting results and hoping the “B” comes back negative.  In the meantime, he’s working with experts who are trying to find out why he has an elevated level of a naturally occurring, but really not performance enhancing (well, except in the context of late night infomercial performance enhancing), substance.

The key elements of my first reaction came ringing through again.  This isn’t a man who spent his life as a peasant on the Italian countryside dreaming of Coppi-type glory.  This is a guy who took up bike racing because his knees wouldn’t let him run anymore, but really enjoys competing.  This isn’t a man vehemently denying allegations while not being able to look you in the eye.  This is a guy who wore a “cycling is dope” shirt to the opening of his “B” sample because he needed a laugh in light of the stress.

I’ll admit to being as cynical as the average cycling fan.  Other than this specific instance, I have presumed guilt.  I remember watching the Giro last year and saying “Di Luca is riding out of his mind.  I wonder when he’ll come back positive.”  Given my relative level of successful intuition-from-a-distance before, I’m sticking with it now.   Last year, a relatively prominent Texan who has lived with suspicion for most of his career had the effective slogan “Hope Rides Again.” It was inspiring for its intended purpose then, but can be altered slightly in this case to say “Hope He Rides Again.”


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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