Posts Tagged ‘doping

02
Feb
10

LeMond and Ricco – Lost In Translation

Cycling goes into a semi-lull this time of year.  Races have started, but not many truly pay much attention outside of the finish of the cyclocross season.  Transfers are over, teams have been announced, training camp previews have taken place.  However, the cycling industry does not disappoint in providing juicy tidbits and places to read between the lines.

Trek v. LeMond

The news emerged that Trek and Greg LeMond had settled their differences yesterday without the predicted spectacle of a full-blown trial.  The press release made semi-believable statements including that both seemed to be “pleased” repeatedly.  Trek is “pleased” to give $200,000 to LeMond’s charitable organization and LeMond is “pleased” to resolve the issues and move forward with things he deems important.  While the mission behind LeMond’s organization is very important and should be to all, where I believe this gets lost in translation (despite all of this happening in my part of these United States – the area that doesn’t have any accent) is LeMond perhaps not fully understanding the meaning of the word “pleased.”

For Trek to write a couple checks for $100K is a gift.  Trek’s lawyers better not only get a hefty holiday bonus, but a Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving bonus.   If Trek would have been given the chance to write this check at the beginning, they would’ve gift-wrapped it and put a big bow on it.  Trek gets a tax-deductible write-off, avoids the trial of what would have been an outright attempt by LeMond to call up anybody and everybody including the person who changed the sheets on Lance’s hospital bed in an attempt to generate circumstantial evidence of his belief of Lance’s doping.  LeMond didn’t show up at Armstrong press conferences or give speeches without desperately wanting to create the far greater worldwide, mainstream media exposure that would have resulted from a trial.   The taste of bile in the back of his throat salivating about this possibility was something he hasn’t tasted since being told that the Badger wasn’t going to play domestique.  Apparently in LeMond-speak “pleased” means either “I’m really tired” or “Lance’s secret forces have placed an explosive charge inside of my brain and Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible Team isn’t taking my calls, so I better sign this.”

I’m not sure how they did it, but score 1 for Trek.  Maybe now they can push some of those legal dollars back into R&D and catch the Madone up to the Tarmac.

Ricco vs. His Mouth

The following comments may seem judgmental, but when will Riccardo Ricco realize that any time he opens his mouth, something really bad or really dumb comes out?  Guys, myself included, do plenty of things to screw things up on our own.  We don’t need this guy getting us slapped just for being a member of the same sex.   Again, I’ll give a small chance of misinterpretation to something being lost in translation, but here are a couple of his latest jewels (along with my potential interpretation and judgment) in the wake of his baby mama’s CERA positive.

Quote 1 “I know as much as anyone else. I’ve been away from home for 3 months.” Alternate interpretation – “Plausible Deniability.”  Judgmental comment – she stood by him during his implosion, he’s still banned from the sport with a newborn and hasn’t been home, definitely showing once again, it’s all about him.

Quote 2 “When I was positive, I confessed everything. I was honest.” Alternate interpretation – “I lied, cheated and stole, but when they caught me, they said they would reduce my suspension if I squealed like a pig.” Judgmental comment – He was honest from the time it took to strip away the web of lies in his brain and answer the doping authorities’ questions.  After that, the rest, including his so-called “remorse”, is really questionable.

Quote 3 “Cycling isn’t for women, it hurts too much.” Alternate interpretation – I’m a complete ass. Judgmental comment – Maybe that works in the OId Country, but having a “barefoot and pregnant” attitude doesn’t work too well in the modern world.  You’re on your own…and I wouldn’t recommend any US stops.

30
Jan
10

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.

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.

06
Jan
10

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.”

04
Jan
10

fear and loathing, lies and hypocrisy (pro cycling’s PR ‘machines’)

By comparison to the 3-letter sports we’re bombarded with on American television, professional cycling’s PR machines aren’t quite so well oiled.  The typical NFL/NBA/MLB/NHL interview canned response sequence to all interviews could be paraphrased as “I did good, but I am part of the team.  We played well today.  I hope we play good next time.  Thankfully, my personal God liked our team better than their team today.”  Cycling doesn’t have the budget (or the league) for mandated PR sessions and classes on how to avoid society’s evil ways.  For that, I’m thankful.  Because if it weren’t for the personal conflicts, language barriers, underhanded remarks and outright lies masked as sponsor endorsements, writing in the offseason would be much harder.

In perusing today’s stories, it took just a few minutes to come across three stories that left me with one reaction – somebody said this thinking cycling fans will actually believe it.

Story 1 – Brailsford’s comments on Ben Swift being added to the Tour Down Under schedule months ahead of his strong-armed signing away from Katusha: “Our understanding was he had become a free agent. It was planning ahead. The information we received is that he’d quit and terminated his contract.”

My only assumption is Brailsford’s “information” was Swift describing his dislike of Russian Vodka and the painful memories of the sting of the venik at the banya.  I’m guessing some release form wasn’t part of the documentation.

Story 2 – The Specialized/Astana sponsorship announcement: Contador stated “This is why I made it a requirement to have Specialized as the team bike for my return to Astana.”  My Spanish is still fair, but since I’m really not part of the media and wasn’t on the conference call, I wasn’t able to provide my own translation.  But, I think the more accurate or behind the scenes translation would be “Specialized gave me a million a year to ride this bike.  If you freakin’ Kazakhs want me to ride on this Bad News Bears squad, you better ride these bikes and tattoo the logo on your forehead if they want you to.”

Pereiro trying to look away...

Specialized President Mike Sinyard added to the hypocrisy. “Winning the Tour has been a dream of ours for many years, but even more important is the opportunity to work with riders like Contador and Vinokourov to help us create the best bikes possible and bring them to riders everywhere.” Mike, you had me at “hello.”  You lost me at Vino.  For the record, I’ve been a fan of the Big S for almost 20 years.  I know it makes business sense, but Vino?

Story 3 – Amore & Vita Team Boss Ivano Fanini justifying the signing of 18-year old Eugenio Bani.  Bani becomes the world’s youngest pro.  However, he was just suspended two weeks ago by the Italian Federation for 21 months for using HcG, which will prevent him from racing in his home country.  “The athlete is the subject of great unjustice, due to the corrupt system that holds cycling today, especially in Italy,” said Fanini “The federation rules do not foresee controls in the younger categories, thereby leaving the field open to meddlers able to freely dope young riders, undisturbed. That is what happened to this athlete, who cannot have doped on his own initiative.  It is unthinkable that an 18-year-old would be able to find a substance like Human chorionic gonadotrophin without the help of persons close to him. The boy is only a puppet in the hands of people that are more experienced in cycling.”

I know I’m getting to be an old man; I am a whole four months older than Lance and Jens.  But in my high school days, young men still wanted to excel at sports.  Some were more than willing to find faster ways to get there.  I believe the cliche “Die Young, Die Big, Dianabol” started around my generation.  Anybody who wanted to find it, could.

Today’s bitter pill is just a warm up…tomorrow, the “analysis” of the Team Sky launch.

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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