The USADA announced yesterday that it was lifting Tom Zirbel’s ban effective 21 Mar 2011. As you’ll recall, Zirbel tested positive for DHEA and was subsequently banned for 2 years. Zirbel always maintained his innocence and proposed that he had unknowingly ingested DHEA through a tainted supplement. While he could have pursued that case, he realized he faced a costly and lengthy battle. He opted instead to accept his ban, to his chagrin.
Zirbel went through a couple stages after his ban, from anger to considering walking away from the sport he loved, to getting back on the bike and participating in an unsanctioned TT in Texas where he broke one Lance Armstrong’s previous course record. Homeboy still knows how to ride his bike…fast.
I am speculating here, but I think the biggest slap in the face to Zirbel had to be the Contador case. To see him get popped for clenbuterol, offer up a defense of tainted steak from Spain, and to be acquitted for accidentally/unknowingly ingesting the banned substance (with a zero tolerance limit, mind you) must have been a gut punch to Zirbel. But that just goes to show you what star power, money, and political backing can do for you. Of course, Contador isn’t out of the water yet.
Zirbel is now cleared to race, thanks to his participation in a pair of doping cases. He explains:
“I have been allowed to race the rest of the 2011 season and beyond, though I do not currently belong to a team,” said Zirbel. “Well, my ‘substantial assistance’ amounted to me putting USADA in touch with a person who had incriminating knowledge about an athlete who USADA was building a case against. And I actually did this in two separate cases that USADA was or is pursuing.”
I don’t know Tom Zirbel, and he doesn’t know me; but I like him. I honestly believe in his innocence, and I’m happy to see him returning (early) to racing. I think the general consensus in the domestic peloton is that Zirbel is both well liked and well respected. I believe he’ll be welcomed back when he takes to the line again this season, and fully expect him to get a pro ride for 2012.
Welcome back Tom, and good luck this year.