On December 27, Tom Zirbel announced that his A sample from the USA Professional Time Trial Championships tested positive for exogenous DHEA. Zirbel has proclaimed his innocence and is confident that he will find the answers.
Following his notification, Zirbel hired Paul Scott to make sure that protocol was followed when his B sample was tested about four weeks ago. Scott, who formerly worked with the WADA-accredited lab in UCLA, founded Scott Analytics that offers a variety of programs and services to the stakeholders of sport, including owners, teams, athletes, governing bodies, laboratories and other related persons and entities.
Although announced to be riding with the Garmin-Transitions team back in September, Zirbel is currently without a job. His existing contract with the BISSELL Pro Cycling Team terminated on Dec 31st 2009 and the Garmin contract did not happen.
The B sample results are still pending while Zirbel waits, riding the wave of support as he calls it. The 31-year old could face a two-year suspension.
Earlier today, I discussed the current situation with Zirbel.
How are you holding up under the strain of waiting?
I’m doing a lot better now that I came out with the press release and did a few interviews, kind of got my story out there, I’m actually doing better than I was a few weeks ago when I was trying to keep it a secret, just waiting every day to hear back from USADA, emailing then every day. Now I’m just riding the wave of support that I’ve gotten and just put it out of my mind, it’s not going to change anything me hounding them. I’m just waiting as patiently as I can.
So they don’t give you a date when the testing will be done?
There are a few things at play but I don’t really want to get into it but they actually have communicated with me on why it’s taking so long. I’m thinking either this week or next week I should have something more from them. It may be a month, I don’t know at this point but it should be soon.
Let’s go over the timeline again. Your A and B samples were taken right after US Pro TT right?
So did anything out of the ordinary happen that day or during the test?
No, I think I mentioned before that I was really dehydrated which is not out of the ordinary. I didn’t take a bottle for the time trial, it took me a little bit longer than normal to submit a sample, about three hours I think to get 90ml’s worth. It was a pretty concentrated sample but it was within the range probably on the upper end of that. It’s the only thing that sticks out as far as… preparation and everything was the same.
When were you notified that your A sample was positive?
It was mid-November, first or second week of November.
What goes through your mind at that point? And how do you get notified, is it a letter, an email, a phone call?
They do an email now and notify you that they are sending a one-day priority mail of the same thing. I received it on a Friday at like 3pm and actually didn’t read it until Saturday morning. Yeah, I flipped out, it’s the nightmare that I think any cyclist who’s been tested has and then I went through a whole range of emotions. I was legit freaking out at one point, I was trying to write emails to people and I was shaking but it has to be expected. I calmed down and tried to be more productive then.
Then what are the next steps for the B sample testing?
They notified you when the B was going to be tested and they gave me an option to go there with a representative and I did that. I hired Paul Scott and met him out there in Utah, just basically watched people centrifuged your sample and stuff but it was nice to have some small part in it instead of being a complete bystander. It was just good for my head to go out there, it was good to have Paul there just to make sure that everything is done according to protocol and let me know kind of what I’m up against and what is going on.
Why did you choose Paul Scott to help you with this?
I was on the phone with John Ruger, the USOC Athlete Ombudsman and that was the guy he recommended, he said he’s the best out there that helps athletes so I took him at his word. I emailed him and went back and forth. It was a pretty quick process because I had to decide within a day or two if I was going to go and if I was going to have a representative. I thought it was a good idea just to do what I could to represent myself.
Personally, I know I would go nuts to recheck everything. So what do you do? Do you put yourself through a whole battery of tests? Do you put your supplements through a whole battery of tests?
Yes. First it was brainstorming, using the help of the people on the team like the soigneurs and people like that, just to see if they remembered anything out of the ordinary and just take me through what they could remember about the weekend and the days leading up to it. Going through credit card histories and things like that of where I ate and try and remember things I might have taken. It started off being a brainstorm process. Yes we thought about testing some different things and testing myself and getting baseline values and seeing if this is something that my body could have produced on its own. It’s been a little science project.
So are you still going through tests at this point?
Yes, it’s going to take awhile. A lot of the stuff hasn’t been totally put into motion because I haven’t received word from USADA on what is going to happen. I don’t want to spend a lot of resources at this point if I don’t know. What if they determine that their test is messed up and so they throw out everything which would be very unlikely, they actually did a very good job in the lab. I’ve just been hesitant to throw down a bunch of time and energy, not just myself but the people who have offered to help me before we know what we’re up against.
Have you intentionally taken DHEA?
No I haven’t. I talk to people now and they know more about DHEA, just like people who aren’t associated with cycling know more about it than I did. I googled it the day I got that letter from USADA, I hadn’t even put it together that it was the same stuff that Tyler got a suspension for. I was pretty shocked to see that you can buy off the counter at any nutrition store and that it’s in all kinds of stuff, that’s kind of scary as much as I get tested.
On one side you have friends and ex teammates that came out publicly to support you and on the other side websites convicting you of being a doper. How do you handle all that?
First of all I haven’t been on cycling news site, I got a call at 9pm last night and someone told me that they saw my article on cyclingnews yesterday and I was like ‘what are you talking about? I didn’t do any interview or anything’ but apparently they took excerpts from my blog and put it on there. So I’ve been avoiding that like the plague because I know people, I’ve had problems with that even before this happened to me, just anonymous bloggers who are self-righteous, self-proclaimed geniuses that love to spout their opinions and then just not leave a name, so brave. So I’ve have been sheltering myself from that because I am kind of a sensitive person and people’s opinions matter to me. But to my knowledge, everyone who knows me, I won’t say everyone but everyone who has approached me has without a doubt believed me for my word so that’s been very helpful to my state of mind. I’ve just focusing on that. I know that there’s going to be people who doubt and I don’t blame them, people who know me I expect more from, so that’s what I’m relying on.
Do you have a plan of action whatever happens from the results of B sample test?
Yes, I guess if it comes back negative I need to try and find a job. And if it comes back positive, I need to find a job. But either way, honestly, either way negative or positive I need to lobby for change, I think the system is kind of screwed up. First I need to find out what happened be it something contaminated, it was a food source, my body produced it or the test is bunked. I need to figure out what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen to someone else. It’s definitely, if not a life changer, it’s definitely a career changer, it has affected my career one way or the other.
I don’t know how you’re not bitter about that right now but I guess that wouldn’t help at this point.
I got through my stages where I just, as one of my friends puts it, I just want to light a match and walk away (chuckles) but I’ve gotten a lot out of this sport and I think I owe it a little bit more than that. I think it would be kind of selfish of me to just walk away and not try to change the wrongs that I see that are in the system.
This is scary stuff. It’s hard to understand how this happened.
Yeah, I’m pretty irritated about that. If I would of changed a couple of things leading up, ‘lets try this before the big race’ and then I could point to that. But my approach and preparation was the same so it’s going to be a little bit more difficult to figure what happened but I’m pretty confident. It might take a while, it might take some resources but I think I’ll figure it out.