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USADA lifts Tom Zirbel’s suspension

Tom Zirbel is back.

Zirbel was close to launching an international pro career. | Casey Gibson photo

The former National Racing Calendar champion announced this morning that USADA has ended his suspension, effective March 21, 2011. According to Zirbel, the reduction is due to his assistance in two recent or developing doping cases.

“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.”

Zirbel told VeloNews Tuesday morning that he immediately came forward on two occasions when he learned of doping activities in the peloton. He said the incidents occurred in late 2009 and in the fall of 2010. According to Zirbel, in each instance an associate told him about evidence they had of other riders using performance enhancing drugs.

“Both times I came forward immediately. I never sat on any information,” Zirbel told VeloNews. “I told them they had to come forward. I got fired up and sent an email to USADA.”

Zirbel’s sanction dated to a positive urine test for dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) at the 2009 national time trial championships, where he finished second to David Zabriskie. Zirbel has vehemently denied using the banned steroid. After his “B” sample returned positive in January 2010, Zirbel accepted a two-year suspension, scheduled to end in November 2011.

Then 31 years old, the sanction cost Zirbel a two-year contract alongside Zabriskie at Garmin, and likely his shot at the World Tour.

Zirbel told VeloNews in February that he hoped to return to the U.S. peloton within the next 12 months.

Contacted by VeloNews, USADA chief executive officer, Travis Tygart said that a reduction in Zirbel’s suspension was warranted.

“We can confirm that Tom Zirbel’s suspension has been reduced from two years, to slightly over sixteen months and he is eligible to compete effective March 21, 2011,” Tygart said. “Mr. Zirbel has provided substantial assistance to the anti-doping fight and in accordance with the applicable USADA and WADA rules his sanction was reduced by approximately eight months. It is important that individuals within a sport take ownership and actively stand against doping. We hope to empower all those involved in sport to protect clean competition and to play an active role in ensuring their sport is played by the rules without the use of dangerous performance enhancing drugs.”

When contacted Monday, Zirbel’s former team manager at Bissell Pro Cycling, Glen Mitchell, said that he last spoke with Zirbel in January.

“We’ve had no in-depth discussions in the team (about hiring Zirbel),” he said. “If he did come available, I think every team in U.S. would have to think about that.”

Zirbel credited U.S. Olympic Committee ombudsman John Ruger and the new University of Colorado law school clinic designed to support athletes in doping cases for his reduced sentence.

“The program is overseen by a lawyer-professor within the school and I was the first case that they took on,” said Zirbel. “It was their dealings with USADA that allowed the transfer of information to ultimately lead to the reduction. Honestly, it’s a little silly that I’m getting a reduction in sanction for something that has absolutely nothing to do with me, but apparently that’s how this game is played!”

Zirbel did admit that he would rather have received a sanction reduction related to his contention that he unknowingly ingested the substance.

“This is certainly not the way that I was hoping to get a reduction in sanction and it’s frustrating not to know what caused the positive test in the first place, but I’m still hopeful that question will be answered at some point down the road,” he said. “And I would like to add that in citing the reasons for my reduction in sanction, USADA acknowledged the possibility that the exogenous steroid derivative found in my body was ingested without my knowledge.

“Regardless, I’m excited for the possibilities that this season holds, and I want to thank everyone who has stood behind me in complete support throughout this entire ordeal.”

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