Monday, December 28, 2009

Tom Zirbel Tests Positive for DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone)

I don’t know Tom Zirbel as a person so I can’t speak to his character, and I have no first-hand knowledge of his supplement use or medical care (if he received any), let alone whether or not he actually ingested DHEA. But if his B-sample comes back positive or he otherwise fails to clear his name, his world is going to implode, and it won’t be pretty.



Cyclingnews.com reports, "Tom Zirbel has announced he tested positive in an anti-doping test conducted by the United States Anti Doping Association (USADA) following the US Pro time trial championships on August 29, 2009. The A-sample returned positive for an endogenous steroid Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Zirbel awaits the response of the B sample. 'I want to inform the cycling community that an 'A' sample of mine from a urine test conducted by USADA on Aug. 29, 2009 after the US Pro TT has tested positive for exogenous DHEA,' Zirbel said. 'I have not yet received notification from USADA on the findings of the 'B' sample, but I expect to receive word any day now.'..."

I can empathize with what Zirbel might feel then, should the B-sample come back positive, as you all know that my own career ended when I was just 31 and was caught doping - which was devastating. Worse, almost no one could understand that, even though I’d brought it on myself to a large degree by doping shamelessly for five years, the feeling of being ripped from the womb of cycling left me so disoriented and adrift that life temporarily lost all meaning and hope. So if Tom doped and is found guilty and sanctioned – or if he didn’t dope but is still sanctioned because of a false positive – I want him to know that he’s not alone and there are other cyclists who can understand the hell in which he’ll find himself and can offer their support. Myself included.

Tom’s case isn’t being adjudicated in the US criminal justice system, so the operative theory isn’t “Innocent until Proven Guilty” and given what I know about the sophistication of doping in cycling, the ease with which controls can be thwarted, the capacity of humans to lie, cheat and steal to get to satisfy their ambition, and the fallibility of even the most pious, saintly men, of course I think it’s possible that he doped. However, it’s also possible that it’s a false positive, though the statistical likelihood of such an anomaly is slight, if I remember correctly.

If Tom is going to first be tried in a court of public opinion, well, then he sure sounds guilty when he says something as disingenuous as “I didn’t knowingly ingest any DHEA,” “I’m ignorant about these things, I didn’t know what DHEA was until I was first notified about my A sample positive.” [ref] Hey, guess what? I didn’t knowingly ingest the steroid (probably some brand of Testosterone Undecanoate ) that led to my positive urinalysis, though it’s entirely possible that it was there because my team gave me a doping product that metabolized into 6α-OH-androstenedione or 6β-OH-androsterone. Furthermore, it is utterly unbelievable that a professional like Tom Zirbel who earns his living from the bike and who would eventually negotiate a contract with a ProTour team for 2010, wouldn’t know what DHEA was as of late-summer 2009, when it was THE doping product that effectively ended Tyler Hamilton’s career - in APRIL 2009.

BUT, by the same token, and in Tom’s defense, the lab very well have made an error. Just like I didn’t knowingly ingest anything that could have left the metabolites 6α-OH-androstenedione or 6β-OH-androsterone, I had taken five other doping products that an accredited-lab failed to detect. I hope people consider both scenarios while we wait for the official disclosure. USADA is a very professional, well-run, seemingly fair organization, and they don't strike me as being the type of people who persecute athletes. In fact, USADA is scrupulous about protecting the privacy of accused athletes, such that when I called a contact there today to discuss the "Zirbel Situation," he wasn't even aware that the cyclist had gone ahead and preemptively announced his A-sample result. USADA would have kept that private until well after the B-sample was analyzed (assuming it was also positive and the athlete chose to continue to defend against the charges). A lab, however, that made an error in analyzing a sample or reporting its findings would have a strong disincentive to publicly admit that and an unethical employee or lab director might hang an athlete out to dry. Might.



I know for a fact that a rider was positive for EPO when he won a US National Criterium Championship – he took a full-strength, non-micro dose within the time frame during which he should have been positive. In fact, his “A” sample WAS positive, but his “B” was declared negative because the EPO levels were interpreted to fall just below the cut-off for a definitive positive. So the labs can make mistakes. Guilty go free (only to be caught later). Some riders cheat. I hope most do not. But to be in Tom’s shoes right now is to be in hell and I wish him and his family the best regardless of what the truth of the matter is.

15 comments:

  1. Thanks. I was waiting for you to post something about this. I will wait and see the outcomes of this but it doesn't look good.

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  2. Not sure why all these guys are testing positive for DHEA right now. Wonder if its really a DHEA positive, or something else that looks like DHEA in the test.

    Seems sort of strange...

    Thanks
    Burt

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  3. Yeah, it's almost funny...like US riders are such 'tards that DHEA is our CERA. Here, the top guys get busted for something you can buy at Rite-Aid or GNC. In Italy they get busted for something that has to be trafficked to them via criminal drug networks and corrupt medical professionals. And in Spain they don't get busted.

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  4. What was the deal a few years ago with all the dudes testing positive for Nandralone? Wasn't that an issue where they were actually taking something else, but it was showing up as Nandralone in the test?

    That's what I'm thinking...dudes taking something else, but it showing as DHEA.

    I dunno...all the drugs I ever did you had to smoke, and they weren't performance enhancing, so I'm not sure...

    Thanks,
    Burt

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  5. Joe, your latest Tweet on this subject seems to leave little room for doubt; you're convinced that this was an intentional act by Zirbel?

    Seems so strange to me to be taking something of arguable benefit, that is so easily testable, and during an event where you expect to get (a result that means you will be) tested.

    Is he really that stupid?

    I'm with Burt on this, there must be some other, equally logical and simple explanation.

    Is the false negative hypothesis equally logical and simple? Mmm not too sure. But throw Zirbel's required stupidity into the mix and I think it becomes slightly more likely.

    Not that this is likely to help Zirbel in anyway though...

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  6. Users of anabolic steroids will often use DHEA at the end of a testosterone cycle to help boost the natural production of testosterone and support adrenal function. Normal testosterone production is suppressed and the adrenals are taxed when one is taking exogenous testosterone.

    It is not without reason that one would complete a testosterone cycle a little time before an important event, and transition with DHEA.

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  7. Michael,

    Given the character limit of Twitter, one has to pick the statement most likely to drive traffic to the link that also counts against one's Tweet-character allotment. Hence the more aggressive tone of my tweet. Anyone making it to the article and reading it I would hope sees that I don't think we can make any definitive conclusion.

    I'm positive, however, that the ADA's do not know of a secret use for DHEA (ie, it masks for something else, or something else metabolizes into it). I think that there could be over-hype to gullible athletes about 1) DHEA's supposed test-elevating capabilities and 2) the myth that DHEA isn't screened for regularly and therefore even if it provides only 0.5% benefit it is therefore worth using.

    What did get my panties in a bunch was Zirbel's claim that he didn't know what DHEA was prior to testing positive for it. GTFooH! Talk about straining credibility. Likewise, the preemptive announcement of the A-sample speaks of a man convinced his B-sample will also be positive. B/c if you thought there was an error or protocol was violated, you'd want your "violation" kept private until you had a chance to prove that you were in the right and hadn't doped.

    Can't wait for the arbitration on this one. But if he takes the two year ban after the B-sample is announced without contesting, it's b/c he did it.

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  8. JP,

    Two team directors were informed of the positive, as well as Zirbel. He went public because of one team's leaving him off of their roster, not because of any USADA link. The only leak was from a DS who was in the know.

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  9. Michael - Just to clarify, what I'm thinking is more to what Poster 23:44 is saying. There's a reason that guys are testing positive for DHEA, and its probably not that they 'accidentally ingested it from their supplement' (i.e., the doping equivalent of 'I must've gotten pregnant from that toilet seat').

    My bet is that something is going on with all these guys testing positive for DHEA right now, and it sure seems fishy...

    Thanks,
    Burt

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  10. I know Tom personally. I have no idea if he is guilty, innocent, using it to mask something else, or whatever. Anyone who says they know more is just making a guess. Lets not kill the guy yet. He is one of the nicest and most humble guys you will ever meet. I am not stupid enough to assume that means he is automatically inncoent, but I would give him the benifit of the doubt so far. When you step back it is hard to see why a guy like Tom would risk taking something with questionable benefits and when he knows is doing major UCI races and the testing that goes with them. Tom has been a top America at TT nationals and UCI TT’s at TOC for a while now, so he knows what is up.

    The guy is a great story from college running, to rising from cat. 4 up to Pro Tour. I cannot imagine how devistated he must be now. If you have followed his career you know it has been a slow rise and he has always been a top TT rider. I do not remember the year, but his first year as a cat. 1 he did the Elite TT at nationals in Utah. No one had ever heard of the guy, he rode for a no name team and I think he finished 4th, with lots of real pros in the top 10. Anyone who was watching took notice that day.

    I wish our sport’s governing body would help riders out more and shy away from assuming guilt. As others have posted on here it is funny/strange that Americans gets busted for these randon things you can buy at GNC and probabbly have no effect. All the while you wonder what the hell they are really doping with in Europe, that the testers are missing. USADA loves cases like this (or one like Mongier) so they can say they are doing a good job. I for one wonder if they are realling missing the real problem.

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  11. Anon @10:51: You summed up what I was going to say. Tom is a really nice guy; I am not a personal friend but I met him several times back when Bissell was Priority Health.

    Despite the fact I like him personally I am not going to offer up any "he's so honorable & nice so he's totally innocent / it's ok".

    So with that out of the way... I have some real problems with the WADA / ADA civil standard. When talking about someones career a 51/49% standard of proof is awfuly low. I think Tom, innocent or guilt, is pretty well screwed.

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  12. I spent lots of time training and racing in Lancaster county. Lots of people knew a nice Amish kid who they'd see training in sweats on their mountain bike up at brickerville. He'd be on a $200 bike, dropping Elite racers...real nice kid, total phenom, very personable, everyone know he had tons of talent from way back, yadda yadda yadda.

    Floyd doped...as much as I didn't want to believe it, he did it. I've heard it all before, nice people cheat too.

    You guys are 100% right: Zirbel, like everyone else, deserves their chance to try to explain things. That said, please forgive me if I'm a bit skeptical of any explanation besides the one that involves him cheating.

    Thanks,
    Burt

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  13. I really do get tired of the "nice guy" thing getting rolled out every time one of these guys gets busted. Ted Bundy was reportedly a nice guy, too.

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  14. hello?! the anon poster a few back nailed it.
    he was coming off a test cycle and needed to get his body producing his own test again.. he just timed it wrong and the dhea was still in the system.
    this is never going to end...

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  15. Anon 29 dec 08:39 - thanks.
    Anon - 30 dec 00:46 - ouch. Nice guys do bad things too, eh?

    ReplyDelete

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