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. 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.

WADA Social Science Research

According to its website, WADA is committed to improving evidence-based doping prevention strategies through social science research. Understanding the fundamental differences between athletes who choose to compete clean and those who resort to doping or why some athletes decided to dope – despite being well aware of the harmful effects of doping and of anti-doping rules – will assist in ensuring that doping prevention strategies are effective and efficient. In fact, I contributed to this research myself after testing positive and owning-up to my involvement in doping, and was honored to have the opportunity to do so.

WADA’s Social Science Research Grant Program was created to ensure that preventive anti-doping education programs were designed using an evidence-based approach. Since the creation of the Program in 2005, 26 projects have been funded with awards nearing the US$730,000 mark.

Target Research Program
To further ensure effective doping prevention strategies, WADA’s Education Committee identifies specific areas that they feel require additional evidence in the way of social science research. Several years worth of WADA-funded research is available for review online here. One study of particular interest to this author, The Development and Validation of a Doping Attitudes and Behaviour Scale (DABS), is summarized below, and a subsequent post will present the full results of the study.

The Development and Validation of a Doping Attitudes and Behaviour Scale (DABS)PROJECT SUMMARY

“Athletes’ use of prohibited ergogenic substances for performance enhancement is a form of cheating behaviour which can jeopardise their health and careers. Unfortunately, few studies have attempted to understand the psychological mechanisms underlying such behaviour (Roberts et al., 2004). This oversight is unfortunate because anti-doping measures cannot be fully effective unless they address the reasons why athletes engage in cheating in the first place. Against this background, Moran, Guerin, McCaffrey & MacIntyre (2004) conducted a qualitative study of Irish athletes’ understanding of cheating in sport. They discovered that cheating was perceived to occur along a continuum of behaviour ranging from less serious activities such as “smart play” (or gamesmanship), at one end, to the use of banned substances to enhance performance (doping), at the other end. They also found that cheating was rarely perceived as stemming from an individual decision by an athlete but was attributed to a particular type of coaching environment characterised by a “win at all costs” approach. Given such findings, the next step in this programme of research is to explore the “doping” end of the cheating continuum by developing a theoretically-based, self-report instrument which can measure not only athletes’ attitudes to doping but also their propensity to engage in doping behaviour. This scale development task requires three separate studies using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methodology (see Biddle, Markland, Gilbourne, Chatzisarantis & Sparkes, 2001) and is guided by the following research questions. First, what are Irish athletes and coaches’ perceptions of, and attitudes towards, doping in sport? This question will be investigated using a series of semi-structured interviews with athletes and coaches/managers from sports (e.g., athletics, cycling and weightlifting) in which doping is known to be prevalent.
Of particular interest in this study will be the attitudes and experiences of athletes who have been investigated for alleged breaches of ant-doping regulations. Second, based on the attitudes elicited by our interviews, what is the best way to design a theoretically-grounded, objectively scored, self-report scale to measure athletes’ attitudes to doping and their propensity to engage in doping behaviour? This question will be answered by rigorous psychometric analysis. Finally, what combination of relevant psychological variables produces the best prediction of a proclivity to engage in doping? Among the predictor variables to be investigated here will be moral reasoning (Tod & Hodge, 2001), perceived motivational/coaching climate (Ommundsen, Roberts, Lemyre & Treasure, 2003), attributional style (e.g., Hanrahan, Grove & Hattie, 1989) and perceived importance of competition (as there is evidence that athletes are more likely to engage in doping when the outcome is perceived as especially important). Although each of these variables has been associated with cheating in sport, no study has yet combined them statistically using multiple regression analysis to predict a propensity to engage in doping behaviour. In summary, the purpose of our study is to develop a theoretically-based, psychometrically sound, self-report scale provisionally entitled the “Doping Attitudes and Behaviour” Questionnaire to assess athletes’ attitudes to, and propensity to engage in, doping behaviour in sport.” Click here to read the study in its entirety. Study is in PDF format.

My Only Cycling-related Prediction for 2010

My only cycling-related prediction for 2010 that I think is worth noticing by the pundits and punters alike is that young pro/elite riders will realize the value of making their own independently articulated anti-doping stances, and @bikepure (BikePure/ will be the vehicle of choice by which they release these statements and give meaning to them through ongoing action and commitment. They will eschew traditional cycling media and hired-gun PR flaks, and will use “established” blogs and outlets as secondary or tertiary distribution vehicles. Likewise, non-elite riders will make the same kinds of declarations through @BikePure because there is finally a critical mass or fans who are frustrated enough with the rot that has festered inside cycling for so long – a cancer with which I, too, was infected and that I even – to my most profound shame – helped to spread for a time – until the insanity stopped.

While I support @BikePure, the prediction I refer to in this post is based on my own analysis and soundings taken at various points throughout our sport. I’m not paid to promote Bike Pure, or otherwise lobby on their behalf. I’d do that anyway – for free!

But if you believe in clean cycling, and you are bored with endless forum discussions about the doping problem and feel powerless to effect change – rejoice! In Bike Pure, you may have a means to turn individual frustration into collective, game-changing action. I know that I’m wearing MY blue wristband and have a blue headset space on the bike I can’t ride! I don’t agree with every aspect of the proposals BP would like to put forward to fight doping in sport – but, in the sign of a truly “open” and inclusive organization, Andy and Myles don’t require orthodoxy from their supporters. Dialogue leading to action rids cycling of dope. Bike Pure has a role to play in that process, and I’ll let the organization speak for itself below:

Bike Pure is an independent, global organization for fans, riders and the cycle trade to join together in a united stance for a new era of positive cycling.

Bike Pure will spearhead constructive, structured reform, to restore the integrity of cycle sport and create a nurturing environment for future champions to succeed.
Bike Pure is committed to redirecting trust to Professional cycle sport. Bike Pure is an umbrella group for all concerned parties in cyclesport. A medium to let the fans, riders, teams and cycle trade join together in a united stance for an new era of clean cycling
For decades cycling has had a problem with endemic drug use. The cheats have destroyed the public image of cycling. Although the sport is cleaning up, there were over 60 riders caught cheating in 2009 using artificial, performance enhancing methods. Cycling fans worldwide deserve heroes they can believe in: Clean up or clear out. We desire a truly clean sport, with real riders that the fans, sponsors and media can have faith in.
With the aid of our global, talented membership we are proposing structural reform to the system that is failing the next generation of champions. Each member has a forum to let his voice be heard through Bike Pure.
Bike Pure encourage the athletes and teams to sign an ‘Honour Code’, declaring that they race clean, without performance enhancing drugs and with a pledge that will encourage our sport to flourish. If any rider should be deemed positive, Bike Pure are lobbying for stiffer penalties for offenders – 4 year ban minimum and life bans for repeat offenders [Editor’s Note: Here is an instance where Joe Papp does not blindly follow Bike Pure – he does not support a four-year minimum ban for a first-time offender.]. It is through the actions and support of our members that we can apply pressure on authorities for these measures to be implicated.
Riders responsible for their own behaviour, their sponsors can have faith that their investment is safe, and the public can have confidence in the results if they are clean.
We are not naive to think this is a complete solution, but it is an important first element getting the clean riders to joining forces with the supporters and laying a foundation to protect the mental and physical health of future champions and the integrity of our wonderful sport.”

Scotland Lifts Commonwealth Life Ban on Millar

Scotland will allow cyclist David Millar to compete for his nation at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in India after he won an appeal against his life ban.

Commonwealth Games Scotland has lifted a ban that was enforced after Millar, 32, was suspended from cycling for two years in 2004 for using drug EPO. “David has become a campaigner and educator about doping since returning,” said CGS chief executive Jon Doig. “He has gone to great lengths to rehabilitate himself.”

Doig added: “He has shared his experiences with others in an attempt to promote the anti-doping message. “David has now been cleared to compete for Scotland in Delhi, subject to achieving the necessary performance selection standards.”

I made mistakes as a younger athlete in a dirty sport, and I will have to live with those mistakes for the rest of my life, but I have changedDavid Millar 
Millar is likely to have little trouble meeting the criteria to get into the team for Delhi, judging by his performances in the Tour de France and other major championships since his return.

He will also deliver an anti-doping seminar to young Scottish athletes as a condition of his return to the Commonwealth Games team.

“I am absolutely delighted with the decision,” said Millar, who is still not eligible to ride at the Olympics because the British Olympic Association take a hard-line stance against drug offenders.

“It would be an honour to race for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and to give something back to the country that has given me so much.

“I am proud to be a Scot and feel that I have been supported incredibly through the bad times as well as the good by Scotland.

“I made mistakes as a younger athlete in a dirty sport, and I will have to live with those mistakes for the rest of my life, but I have changed and I know I bring something beneficial to not only cycling but also sport as a whole.

“I have been so proactive in my fight against doping because I believe I can make a difference and I also believe that the mistakes I made as an athlete were fully preventable.

“If the example I now give and education I provide can prevent a younger version of me from making the same mistakes I made, then I could not ask for more.”

Story from BBC SPORT  Published: 2009/12/22 07:51:18 GMT  © BBC MMIX

I Will (Metaphorically) Immolate Myself for Clean Sport

“Regardless of what you think of [Joe] Papp as a person, or how you rate him as a cyclist, whatever scorn he still faces should be countered by respect – or at least begrudging appreciation – for the man’s willingness to immolate himself at the alter of clean-sport.”Me [Editor’s Note: J. Danek = cousin to Joe Papp]
[In a recent email blast from Jim Ferstle, there was a reprint of post in which] Twisted Spoke presents an interesting take on the interview given by Pappillon’s own Joe Papp to Bike Pure’s Myles McCorry. Perhaps I say interesting because for once it’s commentary devoid of hate or vitriol, though it is chock-full of disappointment. And rightly so, for Papp let down his legions of fans when it was revealed that he’d been doping for five years at the UCI level.
The entire post is reprinted below, but our favorite paragraph is the following (emphasis mine):

“One of the ironies about Papp is that reading his diary entries, he seemed like such a straightforward, honest guy. The opposite of Alejandro Valverde or Alexandre Vinokourov, the Spaniard loaded down with doping allegations, the Kazak defiant and unrepentant after his two year suspension. But when you hear Papp describe the rocket boost in performance, you understand the intensity of the temptation.”

It just goes to show you that doping isn’t confined to former Soviet republics or the clinics of modern Spain – or even to that most elite level of Grand Tour cycling – rarefied air once inhabited by the likes of Hamilton, Ullrich, Basso and Diluca.

Joe Papp was – and IS – a nice guy who loved racing his bike and writing about his adventures more than anything else in the world. I exchanged text messages with him before I went ahead with this post and he told me that one of the things he regrets most from doping (besides cheating his competitors, dishonoring his sport, humiliating his family, etc) was depriving you all, his readers (both of Pappillon and his diaries) the pleasure and momentary escape that came from reading about bike racing at the UCI level in far-off exotic locales… Vino’ and others might dope for money; riders like Andreu might have doped just to be able to do their jobs; and then there are riders like Papp who – while earning an income from cycling, certainly – doped primarily to be able to continue in the sport they loved, when it was being overrun by athletes who were “on” full medical “programs.” It doesn’t excuse Joe’s doping, but hopefully the Bike Pure interview, and Twisted Spoke’s follow-up analysis, helps to contextualize it.
As Joe himself told me, “I miss competing in cycling more than anything – the training, the camaraderie, the travel, the chance to experience new cultures and exotic lands; representing my country (especially in the Pan Ams) and competing in the most beautiful sport in the world, still wide-eyed and with a shit-eating-grin plastered across my face. I’d give my left (ice)ball to be able to have a chance to set things right, but I fear that the only thing left for my with respect to cycling is to forever represent the ‘This Could Happen to You’ horror story that will be what coaches and uncorrupted directors and genuine, honest riders cite when encouraging young athletes to strongly reject doping as a means to success.” 

Let’s hope that there is more to Papp’s future than that…

Twisted Spoke’s: Joe Papp fell off his bike, a casualty of the doping culture in cycling.
“His interview with Myles McCorry for Pezcycling is probably the best story I’ve read about how and why a rider crosses the line. You get all the angles, the rationales, naiveté, remorse and the painful aftermath wisdom that comes from first hand suffering.
We first discovered Joe Papp a few years ago when he wrote an engaging racing diary for cyclingnews. He wasn’t a famous rider competing in the big monuments of the sport but he was passionate about bike racing. He wrote well and had a skill for taking us inside the races, the personalities, the life of a pro racing gypsy, turning up in Cuba or Turkey or a smaller stage race in Italy or Spain.
So it was a mild shock to read he’s been doping for five years before he was caught and came clean. By the time of his failed drug test, he was doing his best to support the entire pharmacological industry — EPO, human growth hormone, testosterone, insulin, steroid and amphetamines. No doubt he popped a few aspirin, too.
The drug deal reached over 100 products, a program carefully managed by his Italian team — which would later deny any role or knowledge of Papp’s athletic enhancement. It feels like a very old story that never changes — from the Festina Affair to Operacion Puerto.
One of the ironies about Papp is that reading his diary entries, he seemed like such a straightforward, honest guy. The opposite of Alejandro Valverde or Alexandre Vinokourov, the Spaniard loaded down with doping allegations, the Kazak defiant and unrepentant after his two year suspension. But when you hear Papp describe the rocket boost in performance, you understand the intensity of the temptation.
“At first it brought me back up to my previous level of competitiveness, but the more I took that’s when I moved up a level- it felt amazing. 12 or 13% — enough of a difference to block out any ethical or health issues. Enough to win.” When a rider as thoughtful and articulate as Papp decides to dope, you realize how easily a younger athlete is lead to the needle.
It also nearly killed him. While awaiting his B sample test results, Papp crashed hard in the Tour of Turkey. At the hospital they removed “a mass of EPO-damaged sludge” from his left buttock. Doctors back in the states told Papp the blender mix of blood thinners and EPO could have easily killed him. That was certainly the terminal effect on his cycling career.
Once caught, Papp hoped lawyers would somehow locate the Hail Mary loophole but the endgame was not different than Floyd Landis or Tyler Hamilton: destroyed reputation, broken marriage, financial hardship and depression. A UCI ban was the least of his problems. It’s like the old Neil Young song — “I’ve seen the needle and the damage done. A little part of it in everyone. But every junkie’s like a setting sun.”
UCI anti-doping queen Annie Gripper says they’re winning the war on doping. Articulate and visionary team directors like Garmin’s Jonathan Vaughters think the biological passport is a huge step toward clean cycling. It’s a long hard climb, maybe tougher than Alpe d’Huez. “You can change behavior quickly but the deep culture will take a few more years yet,” said Gripper.
In an article about Lance Armstrong in this week’s New York Times, there was a reminder of that pervasive culture. “Five of the eight riders who shared the Tour podium with Armstrong in his winning years served doping bans at some point in their careers. Another two were allegedly tied to doping rings.” Those are not percentages you build a cleaner sport on.
We wish Joe Papp well. Like the NFL players who sell their ligaments, bones and risk life long damage from multiple concussions to make a living, Papp found himself caught in the grinder. He seems like a good guy that loved cycling too much. He wanted to be at the front of the climb and decided there was only one way to do that.”  – Twisted Spoke
For Bike Pure, Myles McCorry wrote of his interview with Joe:
“I witnessed a rider recovering from years stuck in a system where cheating and lying are not only the norm but pampered and encouraged. To recover one self-belief and ones honour is an individual battle. We can only judge on the harm Joe has done to the sport and his efforts for reparation.”
Likewise, [as his cousin] I’ve heard Joe’s lectures to university students at such schools as Chatham and Slippery Rock, and know that the presentation he gave at the headquarters of USADA this summer was considered by several staff members there to be the most-engaging, authentic, and motivating interaction they’d ever had with a reformed-doper who was accepting responsibility for the terrible things he did, and was actively working to prevent other young athletes from following the same dark road on which he lost himself. Regardless of what you think of Papp as a person, or how you rate him as a cyclist, whatever scorn he still faces should be countered by respect – or at least begrudging appreciation – for the man’s willingness to immolate himself at the alter of clean-sport.

High Promise(s) of Significant Contribution to Society and Progress

The (painfully-honest) interview I did with Myles McCorry of Bike Pure has has been circulating more widely now, appearing on sites in Australia and Pez in Canada – all of which is good for the clean-sport message we’re trying to promote. You don’t need drugs to race your bike – or to compete in any sport for that matter. Yes, drugs can make you faster in the short-term, but at a cost that should be seen as unacceptably high (in addition to being illegal, unethical, immoral and dangerous). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I would give the equivalent of my “left nut” to be able to rewind time and stay off the dirty doping road. Since I can’t, I tell my story and don’t hide how doping destroyed my sporting career and imperiled my life, but explain that I’m doing my best to adapt to this new reality and fulfill the prediction that was made in 1999, when I was “awarded as a special honor…[the] designation as a University Scholar – one who shows high promise of significant contribution to society and progress” by the University of Pittsburgh…

Last week I delivered two lectures at Slippery Rock University on the same topic and look forward to additional speaking engagements and opportunities to share my story in the service of clean sport and protecting the next generation of cyclists from the same evils that befell me.

Doping Consequences: A case study with Joe Papp

It is said that a cat burglar designs the best security system and for this reason Bike Pure sought the reformed doper Joe Papp to help us define solutions for the problem our wonderful sport has with drugs. by Myles McCorrym

On May 7, 2006, at the UCI Tour of Turkey, Papp was found positive for metabolites of testosterone at the post stage test for which he won – his fourth of the event. While he awaited definitive proof from his B sample, Papp’s continued racing into July. Competing in Tuscany’s 100-mile Granfondo Michele Bartoli, where he crashed with less than a half-mile to go. Papp initially thought he’d only endured a few scrapes. But by the time he lay down in his hotel room, his left buttock had swelled grotesquely. Papp cajoled his team soigneur into driving him to the closest hospital, in nearby Pescia. For he knew the injury was not innocuous. Surgeons operated on Papp several days later, removing a mass of EPO-damaged sludge that amounted to roughly a fourth of his blood volume.

Back in the U.S., doctors would later tell him that after the lethal cocktail of EPO and blood thinners that his team had provided , Papp was lucky to be alive. Joe Papp is now an outspoken, no holds barred opponent of the use of illegal performance enhancing methods and substances in sport. He has lived, he has witnesses, first-hand – the damage that can be done to a rider’s reputation, their marriage and their career in the wake of a conviction or admission of doping. While Papp is not unique in that he is one of dozens of professional cyclists sanctioned for doping during the past several years (over 60 in 2009 alone), his is a story worth telling, if only to deter one young athlete from taking the tempting first step down the dark path that ends for too many only in expulsion, arrest, or death – a career of cheating…” Read the Full Interview at Bike Pure.

Bike Pure aims to promote clean riders, moving the spotlight away from the dopers by working towards life bans for the cheats. Have your say by joining BikePure and wearing a wristband or headset spacer, visit their website for more information. Bike Pure is an independent, non profit organization, committed to redirecting trust to professional cycle sport. Bike Pure is an umbrella group for all concerned parties in cyclesport. A medium to let the fans, riders, teams and cycle trade join together in a united stance for an new era of clean cycling.

The piece was also covered on at least tow other sites:
1) – California, USA
2) New Zealand Road Cycling – New Zealand