Zirbel. The other side of the story, the Hell side.

We wrote about American rider Joe Papp a week or so ago. Busted from EPO, career over. Joe is also a thoughtful, classy and intelligent guy who knows pro cycling and the doping culture inside and out.

We asked him for comment on Tom Zirbel’s positive A test for DHEA. Turns out he’d already written a long and informative article about the story — and every word is worth reading because you get both sides of the story.

We won’t cut and past the whole piece but the one thing we took away from Joe Papp’s perspective is what Zirbel is going through. Guilty or not, Tom Zirbel is suffering big time. Sometimes, it’s worth stepping away from the axe grinder and Sunday school lecturing and realize that.

Joe put it this way: “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.” Papp has plenty to say about Zibel’s statements and arguments but he also knows first hand what that implosion feels like.

“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,” wrote Papp.

“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.”

On the matter of Zirbel’s guilt or innocence, Papp went on to offer a personal and compelling story. “By the same token, and in Tom’s defense, the lab very well may 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.”

Twisted Spoke was quick to pass judgement on Zirbel. Sometimes the doping story is so pervasive and never-ending that we get angry and spew invective. The sport is too beautiful for such constant abuse. It takes a rider like Papp to bring the full picture into focus. You can hate the crime and still feel for the man. Then again, maybe we’re just feeling real Buddhist today.

One final word on the Zirbel affair from an expert authority on the subject, Joe Papp.  Speaking of another athlete, he said, “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,” wrote Papp.

“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.”

Well and truly said.

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  • Just wanted to thank Twisted Spoke for having me again. And I want to clarify something that might cause confusion. In the second-to-last paragraph, the paraphrasing might lead a reader to think I'm speaking of Zirbel as having won crit nats whilst using EPO. THAT IS NOT THE CASE.

    The sentences beginning with “I know for a fact that a rider was positive for EPO when he won a US National Criterium Championship…" DO NOT REFER TO TOM ZIRBEL!

    Thanks,

    Joe