Thursday, January 07, 2010
Zirbel. I'll tell you what I know
I met Tom Zirbel probably in 2003. I was living in North Boulder in some gigantic condo complex off of 30th street right by Vics II. Anyway, I had the bike outside one morning cleaning some winter crud off when A guy came out on his deck and asked me "Do you race bikes?" I said I did and he told me he was just getting into it. Cool, I thought, a neighbor I can get some rides in with.
We hit some rides and he was quickly racing local Cat 3 races. Cat 3 racing in Colorado is pretty intense but Tom took to it quickly and was winning everything. I told him I was going to the Tour of the Gila and he that he should go. So, we hit Silver City in his rental car. He raced the cat. 3 race and I hit up the cat. 2 race. A buddy, Jesse Reints met us down there too and noted that Tom was a huge rider. The nickname "Thor" came about on this trip. Anyway, Tom won the TT huge, Stage one, crashed and chased the leaders back to the line on stage three (he was torn to shreds, went into shock, went to the hospital, and still started the next stage. Won stage 4 and 5 and took the pink jersey from start to finish. Holy hell, I knew this guy had "the gift."
We got back to Boulder and I told my coach, Frank Overton, that I found this guy who needs a coach, can't afford one, but must be discovered. Frank took him on and agreed with the obvious natural talent and the crushing numbers he put up on the SRM. Tom moved up through the ranks to cat 1 in a season. In an area where the competition is a "who's who" of cycling, this was a feat. Tom trained hard. I mean really hard. Snow, rain, wind, and not coasting ever because "it burns no kilojoules." Big miles, solo, and hard. Tom raced for some local teams successfully. We took him to TT nats out in Salt Lake. He took 4th only 13 seconds off the Pro podium.....on a stock road bike with little aero gear. Zabriskie won. Since he was a Cat 2 he couldn't do the road race so on the TT podium, he asked the President of USA Cycling for an upgrade. The President gave him a business card and told him to call him next week. Yep, he got upgraded to Cat 1 on the podium. He then took off for the killer Elkhorn Classic and won the Pro 1/2 on his own, no team, and doing it completely without any support. Of course, he crushed the TT course record too. All this while working as a pizza delivery driver. It was clear, Tom was a talent. Priority Health picked him up as a neo-pro and it was full steam ahead.
Priority Health changed into Bissell Pro Cycling after some management change. Tom took off into the pro scene with time trial successes everywhere. It was no wonder why either. He had it in him physically and mentally. His mental approach is incredible. At one point in my own cycling I got so depressed about racing that I nearly quit. Tom wrote me an inspirational email that, to this day, I still have hanging on my wall. He kept me going and still does.
Recent allegations attacking Zirbel's character are unfounded. Yes, Tom has a positive A test. Who knows? The B may show the same. But, I am writing this as a friend to Tom and as someone who understand this guy. He is not a doper.
Over the years Tom and I have had long talks about the doping in the sport. I too, hate it. Hate it! This last year, when Tom's teammate, Kirk O'bee got popped, Tom nearly quit the sport. He was so frustrated that someone on his own team, a fellow teammate, would do this around him. Tom is and has been outspoken about the doping issues in the sport.
So, what is happening? Tom is still awaiting for the B test. If it is clean, then that is it. If it is dirty he will be looking at 2 years out of the sport. Maybe he would race again, maybe not. If it is dirty, I, like many others have told him to find out how this happened. Tom did not put anything in his body that he knowingly knew was illegal. Tainted supplements, someone else crap, fouled testing, whatever. Look at the facts. 21 or so tests last season clean, some close to this one. Clean at Worlds. If he was masking something then why didn't anything show up on the test before or after this one? Doesn't make sense. DHEA in a urine test?
Tom is one of those guys you count yourself lucky to meet in your life. Not just a talent, but a damn good human being. Smart, thoughtful, unselfish, open eared, and in this case most importantly, honest! You are all allowed to have your opinions about Tom. That is your right. I am writing the facts about him. I know him.
I pray this test is clean for the sake of our cycling future. Tom is part of that and he has many great races left in him in Europe. Big results and to make a name for himself. He deserves that chance because he has WORKED for that. See, not every talent needs to dope. Tom doesn't need it and he knows that. So, he doesn't. Tom was already signed in March to Garmin. The job was secure. Vaughters saw the talent. He knows the truth, but Vaughters has his hands tied on this one.
Yes, there are dopers accused rightly so. Yes, there are the accused who have not doped. This system is errored. Any test is. Clean guys get caught, dirty guys walk away. And, if we are responsible for everyting that goes into our body, who pays to have everything you eat and drink in a day to be tested? I know a pro cyclist cannot.
In the end, it will be a shame if Tom is convicted for this. I hope it will wake up USADA, USA Cycling, WADA, and the UCI to what can happen when their tests do show their flaws. You will have wasted a rider. A rider that they hope their doping control efforts will produce. If USADA has not already seen the outpouring for pro riders around the world on behalf of Tom, they should. When has that many riders come out in support of an accused rider? Never. This is different rider, Tom is a different rider. See, be afraid of it as you may, but, Tom simply has "the gift."
Best of luck Tom! I am with you through the end and beyond with this. Free Zirbel! -Ian