Nice interview in Pez with Tom Zirbel who is out there in the wilderness in the prime of his bike racing career serving a two year ban for DHEA, a banned steroid.
We jumped all over Zirbel when he tested positive because it’s our perhaps naive belief that professional athletes– especially in cycling — need to monitor what goes in their bodies and not knowing is a lame excuse.
Yeah, sure supplements aren’t really well labelled and regulation is sketchy but given the degree of testing in cycling and the already documented history of tainted supplements … — and given Zirbel had a degree in chemistry, well, his had-no-idea plea seemed weak to us.
That was eight months ago and honestly our opinion has evolved– for several reasons. Since that fateful day there have been a number of cases where athletes have been able to prove unintentional intake of a banned substance and their arguments held up in court. Even a cocaine kiss. So we’re more willing to accept the wasn’t-paying-attention defense.
It’s just a fact that athletes are inundated with supplement choices and staying on top of ingredients including the hidden ones — and investigating quality control — would be a full time job for a rider who already has a job. On that point we’re willing to cut Z some slack.
Second, we’re just plain irritated that the US doping agency takes a hard line and issues a two year ban when in Europe a double offender like Danilo di Luca scores a deal with the Italian authorities and gets his two year ban cut by NINE months. If we’re irritated, imagine how Zirbel feels, because he’s was all set at Garmin and was about to hit the big time.
And don’t even get us started on Spain, where the cycling federation gives their home country cycling stars the royal treatment. The head of the federation is already on record saying he hopes things work out in Alberto’s favor. Well, great, congrats and and glad to hear Operacion Puerto dope doc Eufemiano Fuentes is back in business.
In fact, the elephant in the room is that nobody in the cycling world wants Contador taken down expect a few bitter French riders. And maybe the folks at the Spanish beef council who are angry about Alberto’s tainted meat claim. We don’t expect Contador to receive more than a three month slap of the hand and he’ll still keep his tour title.
All that brings us back to Tom Zirbel and maybe a third, final piece of information. The character issue. No other riders in the last eight months has claimed Zirbel was a cheater, a doper, an asshole. There are no whispers, nobody coming forth to say, “yeah, Zirbel, we all knew.” The general consensus is that he’s a nice guy who got burned by bad luck.
That’s our mood swing and given the difficulty of believing anything or anyone in cycling these day, our mood may still shift. But right now, we’re thinking that suspension should be cut in half and Zirbel should get back to training his ass off.