USADA’s testosterone test isn’t working

Being the best cyclist in North America is like being the best hitter in minor league baseball: you’re not a household name but you’re definitely going places. In 2009 Tom Zirbel was that guy. Friends said he was ambitious, loyal, grounded. He was the National Race Calendar champion and the runner-up at the national time trial championships in Greenville, S.C. In Mendrisio, Switzerland at the world professional cycling championships he was the first American in fourth. Soon after, he signed a lucrative deal with cycling’s equivalent to the New York Yankees, Garmin-Cervélo.

Zirbel it seemed was on his way. Major league cycling in Europe is a rock star existence: adoring fans surround team buses while uniformed mechanics tune cutting edge technology and the soigneurs – the multi-skilled professionals responsible for everything else – take care of, well, everything else. Zirbel could just throw a leg over one of his meticulously cared for machines and race it in some of the most storied sporting events on the planet. But that never happened.

In November of 2009 he got a call from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Zirbel flunked a drug test designed to detect testosterone, a powerful performance enhancer utilized by aging weekend warriors and professional cyclists alike. But Zirbel says he is not a drug cheat and evidence, though inconclusive, mostly supports this assertion. The test used by USADA, an organization funded primarily by U.S. tax dollars, asks more questions than it answers. On one hand it can mitigate a cheater’s guilt and on the other pronounce the guilt of an athlete who never intended to cheat and likely gained no discernible advantage. Making matters worse there’s a test that prevents all of this from happening but USADA rarely uses it because it costs more.

Test is king

Most athletes who dope regard synthetic testosterone as the workhorse of performance enhancing drugs. According to Joe Papp, a former second-tier professional cyclist and admitted doper, testosterone is what keeps an endurance athlete’s performance from degrading during prolonged periods of hard training or in stage races like the Tour de France.

“Testosterone speeds up and enhances the metabolic processes,” said Papp, who used a cornucopia of performance enhancing drugs throughout his career including testosterone. “We (pro cyclists) use it quite differently than body builders. A little goes a long way. In a one day race you might see some muscular-strength increases but mostly testosterone helps you recover from one day to the next.”

Papp believes that testosterone use and the use of even more powerful performance enhancers happens with frequency among masters cyclists, the age groups of 30-somethings and above that make up 76 percent of the sport’s participants in the United States. There’s a sound basis for his assessment. From September 2006 to September 2007 he was the middleman for Shandong Kexing Bioproducts, a Chinese pharmaceutical company that manufactures the blood booster EPO and human growth hormone (HGH). He describes his role with the company as a “facilitator” and said he “facilitated” sales on the Internet to 187 customers grossing more than $80,000. Not bad for a first year startup.

No shortage of buyers in the NW

He said that although the majority of his clients resided in New York and Southern California, there was no shortage of customers in the Pacific Northwest. He could not be specific about how many or whom. He’s not allowed. On Oct. 21 he was sentence to three years probation to include six months home detention for his crimes. His sentencing was delayed while he helped USADA build cases against his former clients. His plea agreement remains sealed and he said he can’t comment in detail about the case, but he did say his client list included many masters cyclists from the three major metropolitan areas of the Pacific Northwest – Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, Canada. And, he added, he facilitated sales to cyclists in smaller Northwest towns as well.

“I think it’s a lot more prevalent than people have realized or are willing to admit up until now,” he said. “My experience with the criminal activity I got up to gave me a fair insight into what was happening in different parts of the country.”

He added that USADA is still pursuing many of his clients but some, he said, were better at hiding their identity than others. So far 12 of the 187 on his list have been sanctioned but Papp believes there will be more as USADA continues to investigate and target-test those whose case portfolios lack the evidence required to win an arbitration hearing.

DHEA… really?

Seattle masters cyclist Kenny Williams has not been implicated in any of Papp’s criminal activities but was one of three cyclists in 2009 who tested positive in the same way as Zirbel. The USADA press release stated that he had an “adverse analytical finding for an anabolic agent.” For Williams, a coach and one of the most prolific winners in Northwest cycling history, the wording was harsh. That “anabolic agent” was either testosterone or a testosterone precursor and not the endless supply of anabolic agents available on the Internet. Compare that to the wording of former Lance Armstrong teammate and Olympic gold medalist Tyler Hamilton who also tested positive in the same way and you get “an adverse analytical finding for testosterone or its precursors.” The press release for 2008 Olympic track and field gold medalist LaShawn Merritt was much kinder. It stated that his positive result was “consistent with the use of Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA),” which is a testosterone precursor regarded as having little to no performance enhancing value. In a bizarre twist Merritt said DHEA entered his system after he consumed an over the counter herbal cocktail that boasted, and that be believed, would increase his sexual performance and the size of his penis.

Merritt’s case was contested in front of an American Arbitration Association (AAA) panel. It seemed at first its members were set to hear another half-baked alibi from a world class drug cheat but sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. By the end of the hearing Merritt’s counsel convinced even USADA that the 2009 world 400-meter champion unwittingly ingested DHEA through the male enhancement supplement called ExtenZe.

Merritt: ExtenZe works

During his testimony Merritt said he first used ExtenZe one night while out on the town. It was at this point of the hearing that his mother and aunt stood up and left the room. Good thing. The official AAA pronouncement stated that, “He (Merritt) saw the commercials about the product and its claims that it helped you last longer and stay firmer. He wanted those qualities in dating his lady friend. He used it that night.”

Presumably Merritt is not a paid spokesman for ExtenZe but he testified the product delivered on its advertised claim that, “Being larger is not impossible and it doesn’t require surgery, prescriptions, gadgets or exercises.” So, for the next seven months he, on occasion, bought ExtenZe at a 7-Eleven near his Suffolk, Va., home. In what sounds like a scene out of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Merritt, playing the nervous teenager, would walk into the store and purchase a lottery ticket and a tall orange can of the energy drink Jungle Juice. He’d then exited the store. Soon after his departure he’d re-enter for a box of condoms and pack of ExtenZe, which he would have to ask the clerk to retrieve from behind the counter where it was kept protected from shoplifters. The clerk, Leslie James, found the ritual humorous. She testified as much at Merritt’s hearing. According to the AAA pronouncement, her testimony was “devastatingly convincing” and in part led to the determination that Merritt purchased ExtenZe not to enhance his athletic performance but to foster better relations with his lady friend.

Merritt received a three month reduction in his two year sanction and escaped what he described as a “foolish, immature and egotistical mistake” with his sporting reputation mostly intact. On top of being foolish, immature and egotistical, it was likely expensive. Legal fees can put this type of arbitration out of reach for most athletes yet to make the big time but a worthwhile enterprise for a 24-year-old Olympic gold medalist with lucrative appearance engagements awaiting him on the European tack and field circuit after his ban ended, which it did in July of 2012. In September he finished second at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea in the 400-meters.

DHEA: Not a go-to drug for depression

Hamilton was well past his prime when he tested positive – he hadn’t posted a significant result since returning to the sport in 2007 from a two-year suspension for a blood transfusion at the Tour of Spain. He accepted an eight year ban at the age of 38 in 2009 for his second doping offense. It effectively ended his career. He said DHEA, not testosterone, triggered his positive result. He said he took the drug as a self-prescribed treatment for severe depression and although research indicates that DHEA might help alleviate some symptoms associated with mild to moderate depression, doctor prescribed antidepressants with a track record of effectiveness are the norm and not on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list of banned substances. WADA is the international anti-doping organization that USADA falls under. Hamilton was in the care of a physician for his depression at the time he submitted his positive urinalysis.

Six months after the news of Hamilton’s positive broke, Williams too attributed his positive to DHEA, not testosterone. His test result came after he set a world record at the U.S. masters national track cycling championships in the 3,000-meter pursuit. All world records in cycling trigger a drug screen even at the age group level if the record is to stand. It’s worth noting that Williams’ wife, Annette Hanson-Williams, tested positive at the 2001 world masters track cycling championships in Manchester, Great Britain for the stimulant ephedrine. In his mea culpa released on the Internet, Williams stated, “In June 2009 I broke and had surgery on my left collarbone. In my haste to return to the top of my game I purchased DHEA at the local drug store without consulting anyone.”

Attempts to contact Williams for comment through the social networking site Face Book where he has an active account and through an email address on the contact page of his coaching business website kwracing.com went unanswered. His suspension from competition ended January 3, 2012. Hamilton’s public relations representative stated in an email that Hamilton is “a potential witness in a grand jury federal investigation and consequently is not available to do any media interviews.” Hamilton is at the center of an investigation into systematic doping on the U.S. Postal Service professional cycling team, of which he and seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong were members. Hamilton has admitted to taking a broad range of performance enhancing drugs including testosterone and said Armstrong, part owner in the team, encouraged other athletes to do the same.

Again, DHEA… really?

Despite the wording of the USADA press releases, the media – ESPN, VeloNews and the N.Y. Times to name a few — almost entirely reported the athletes as positive for DHEA, not testosterone or testosterone precursors. Travis Tygart, USADA CEO, said he couldn’t speculate on what information those media outlets were basing their statements on but it was not released by USADA. He said technically it is not accurate to say or state that, but with the exception of Merritt, any of the athletes in question tested positive for DHEA. He said that DHEA was one drug within a class of drugs that might have triggered a positive test result.

News of the “DHEA” positives broke within eleven months of each other and as the dust settled onlookers scratched their heads. They had good reason. Within the athletic community DHEA is considered a pointless drug from a performance enhancing perspective.

“I was willing to take almost anything if I thought it was going to work,” said Papp, who took DHEA for a brief period in 2001 and described it as has having little if any performance enhancing value. “I found the effect (of DHEA) to be negligible and I didn’t want to run the risk of testing positive for something (so weak).”

Catlin: ‘(DHEA is) nothing like testosterone’

Dr. Don Catlin, who managed drug testing at the last three Olympics contested in the United States and a man many call the founder of modern drug testing in sport, agrees with Papp’s assessment.

“I think it has little to no effect,” he said of DHEA. “There are a number of studies. Some say there’s a small amount of performance enhancement and some say there isn’t any. It’s nothing like testosterone, which does enhance performance. ”

So why does USADA bother testing for DHEA? Well, they don’t.

According to Catlin, USADA is using a test that only looks for evidence of synthetic testosterone. He would know. He invented the test, generally referred as a carbon isotope ratio (CIR) test. He said it can be dialed up or down for greater accuracy. Most of the time the USADA test­­­ is dialed down and can’t distinguish synthetic testosterone from DHEA. Thus the conclusions it reaches aren’t very conclusive. That’s why USADA couches its press releases. Instead of saying an athlete tested positive for either testosterone or DHEA, they have to state the athlete in question had “an adverse analytical finding for testosterone or its precursors,” or words to that effect.

And therein lies the rub. DHEA is legal and easy to buy in the United States. It’s found on the shelves of most grocery stores. Synthetic testosterone on the other hand is a Schedule-lll drug, the possession of which is a Class-C felony. A conviction carries up to five years in incarceration and up to a $100,000 fine.  Suddenly the DHEA angle looms large.  Not that a positive drug test is grounds for arrest or that the slim possibility of being arrested deters doping, but the procurement and use of illegal drugs isn’t exactly the image high profile athletes with endorsement deals or coaching businesses want to project. And, considering it’s widely understood that DHEA provides little if any performance enhancement, you have in the public eye, not a drug cheat looking for an advantage but maybe a guy who got desperate or just did something stupid. Certainly it’s damage control but given the circumstances it seems to provide a mitigating ethical parachute for those athletes caught using testosterone and looking for someplace soft to land.

USADA: we targeted Zirbel

The landing for Zirbel was anything but soft. The then 30-year-old Clear Lake, Iowa native lost what might have been his only shot at the big time. His contract with Garmin-Cervélo, a Pro Tour squad, was cancelled soon after his positive drug test was revealed. In disgust Zirbel retired from the sport. Aside from the carte blanche experience racing in Europe would have provided, he also missed out on a substantial pay raise. In 2009 he raced for the Bissell Pro Cycling Team, a U.S.-based Continental squad. According to the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the average salary for a Continental professional cyclist in 2009 was about $81,000 USD. The average salary for a Pro Tour cyclist that year was $185,000 USD. Zirbel missed two full seasons at the sport’s highest pay grade.

“I feel like, if this positive test hadn’t happened, I’d be making more from year to year because I improved each year (during my career),” he said. “My salary probably went down to 2009 levels.”

In 2008 Zirbel finished 54th in National Race Calendar standings. The next year he won it.  According to Tygart, in 2009 Zirbel was being target tested. He was tested a total of eleven times that year. Tygart was not specific as to why. He said maybe Zirbel submitted samples deemed suspicious or that USADA was acting on a tip. Strangely, Tygart did say samples provided by Zirbel were not indicative of testosterone use. Tygart based this on Zirbel’s testosterone-to-epitestosterone or T-E ratio, which he said was not out of the ordinary. When synthetic testosterone is introduced into the body, testosterone (T) becomes elevated while epitestosterone (E) stays the same. T-E ratios of 4:1 or more are considered abnormal and trigger the more conclusive CIR test.

USADA: Zirbel’s T-E ratio was normal

But his T-E ratio isn’t the only thing that makes this case strange. Zirbel tested positive at the national time trial championships on Aug. 29, 2009. A week prior he tested negative after winning a stage at the Tour of Utah. Two days after nationals he tested negative out of competition. Both negative tests sandwiched the positive test providing a narrow window for Zirbel to use testosterone without failing the T-E ratio test.

“I have to think that whatever was in my system was in my system for a very short period,” Zirbel said. “The irony of it is, the week before, I beat (2009 national time trial champion David) Zabriskie by 17 seconds. Then, seven days later (at nationals), I test positive and he crushes me by 35 seconds. So, I don’t think there was too much performance enhancing going on.”

Maybe not, but it is possible there was doping going on. In a 1997 study Catlin reported that a transdermal testosterone gel applied as little as four hours before a drug screen could still defeat a T-E ratio test – well within Zirbel’s window of opportunity. Papp describes using testosterone in this way and said it was common. Catlin would not comment on the length of time required for transdermal testosterone to defeat a CIR test, but experts say it’s reasonable to speculate that, if it can defeat a T-E ratio test in a few hours, it can defeat a CIR test in a few days – still within the window of opportunity.

Testosterone use didn’t make sense

However, for Zirbel to utilize that window it would mean he used testosterone in the days immediately preceding and up to four hours before his ride at nationals. From a performance enhancement standpoint this makes little sense. Papp and almost every other expert familiar with testosterone agree that the drug is powerful only as a recovery agent and not a pick-me-up in the days or hours before a race. From a testing standpoint it would have also been foolish since Zirbel, by this time, began to suspect he was being target tested. And, since he was one of the favorites at nationals, he knew he was likely to get tested there as well – top three finishers are compelled to provide samples for urinalysis.

It is possible Zirbel used a testosterone gel daily the entire season beating all but one of the tests. Prolonged use of synthetic testosterone shuts down the body’s ability to produce the hormone naturally. If Zirbel was using testosterone daily he would have to continue using it through nationals since low levels of the hormone are not conducive to athletic performance. Experts theorize that testosterone used in this way can augment micro-dosages of EPO since testosterone in part functions to expand the mass of oxygen carrying hemoglobin per each red blood cell. But Papp stated in an email that he could not “see testosterone gel being used in this way.”  He said it’s almost always used to correspond with several hard days of racing or training with prolong periods of non-use. In fact, a lengthy Internet search turns up no anecdotal evidence of transdermal testosterone being used by athletes for extended periods.

No T-E ratio comparison 

It would be interesting to compare the T-E ratios of Merritt, Hamilton and Williams but USADA won’t release that information. Reputable studies show that DHEA will not raise T-E ratios above the 4:1 threshold even at dosages 10 times the daily recommended allowance three hours before a drug screen. Catlin confirmed this and added that, although a normal T-E ratio doesn’t preclude testosterone use, the higher the T-E ratio the more likely testosterone was in play. USADA acknowledged that DHEA tripped Merritt’s positive drug test, not testosterone.  If his T-E ratio was, like Zirbel’s, normal it would lend credence to Zirbel’s theory that he accidentally ingested DHEA by way of supplement contamination. Additionally, if Hamilton and Williams’ T-E ratios were normal it would support their claim that they purposely ingested DHEA for its supposed benefits. The spokesperson for USADA would not comment on why Tygart volunteered Zirbel’s T-E ratio information and not the three aforementioned athletes but did state that “blanket conclusions cannot be reached by simply comparing such factors in isolation.”

So what tripped Zirbel’s positive drug test?

DHEA seems a likely culprit and ironically there’s a 2002 WADA study on banned substances in nutritional supplements that goes a long way in supporting that theory. It showed that of the 634 nutritional non-hormonal supplements bought worldwide and tested, 64 samples – more than 10 percent – contained levels of testosterone precursors great enough to trigger a positive result. Of the samples bought in the United States, 18 percent contained precursors great enough to trigger a positive result.

‘I was astounded by the poor quality of the supplements’

Zirbel, like many athletes, consumed multiple nutritional supplements during that 2009 season. In fact, many professional cycling teams accept product and money in exchange for sponsorship deals from nutritional supplement companies. It’s worth noting that the supplement industry in the United States is not regulated by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or any sort of governmental or self-regulating agency. The supplement company First Endurance was a sponsor of the Bissell Pro Cycling Team in 2009. Zirbel believes that it is possible he consumed DHEA through a contaminated supplement but has no proof. In an attempt to find some, he and his former graduate chemistry professor at the University of Colorado, Dr. Andrew Phillips, tested what was left of his nearly exhausted, season-end supply of supplements.

Phillips, now a professor at Yale, didn’t find DHEA but what he did find left him aghast. He stated in an email that he unearthed plenty of other nasty ingredients not listed on the bottle.

“I can say that I was astounded by the poor quality of the supplements. Beyond what they are supposed to contain (none of which IMHO would have any benefit to performance) they contained trace levels of some truly nasty compounds. Put simply: they would never pass FDA scrutiny and any potential benefit in a performance sense should be weighed against the risk of exposure to compounds that have toxicology issues associated with them.”

Moninger’s bizzare positive

If Zirbel’s positive was the result of supplement contamination he wouldn’t be the first American cyclist to make that claim. In 2002 Scott Moninger, a professional cyclist from Boulder, Colo., with more race wins than any American, tested positive for nandrolone, an anabolic steroid. Moninger claimed it was supplement contamination. He sent an unused portion to a commercial lab in Tuscon.

Scientists there scrutinized the contents of several capsules found inside an unsealed bottle Moninger said he bought at a local shop called Vitamin Cottage. Inside the capsules they found large amounts of the metabolite 19-norandrosterone, the substance one would expect to find, and previously had found, in the Moninger’s urine. How it got in the capsules is anybody’s guess. The contents of two sealed bottles purchased at the same time were examined by Catlin who found no contamination of any sort. Although an AAA panel rejected Moninger’s contamination claim, it reduced his sanction by a year due to his “character, age and experience.” The AAA pronouncement stated that Moninger was tested more than 100 times during his career with no previous infractions and that a two year sanction at his age, then 36, was too harsh.

It is worth noting that all athletes in USADA testing pools are required to complete an online tutorial about the dangers of supplement contamination. This tutorial includes a brief self-administered comprehension test.

Catlin: It’s a matter money

Still, knowing that supplement contamination is problematic one might wonder why USADA continues using a test that can’t tell the difference between the powerful performance enhancer testosterone and the mostly pointless compounds that contaminate and can trigger a positive drug test in 18 percent of the supplements on the U.S. market. Especially considering there is a test available that can distinguish synthetic testosterone from testosterone precursors like DHEA. It was this test, performed at a WADA accredited lab in Cologne, Germany, that proved definitively that Merritt was positive for only DHEA and not testosterone. According to Merritt’s lawyer Howard Jacobs he had to request the test, which USADA was obligated to bear the cost of. Zirbel said he knew of no such test and was never informed that there was one.

According to Catlin the reason USADA seldom uses the test is because it’s more expensive. Zirbel said had he known about the more conclusive test he would have gladly paid the difference. Catlin seemed confident he could develop a test that isolates testosterone from each of its precursors with the same degree of certainty as the one used in Cologne in a matter of months if USADA would ask for it.

“If you do the CIR test on each of the precursors you can tell where the source is, but they (USADA) don’t do that,” Catlin said. “They just say, okay, your testosterone carbon isotope ratio is abnormal so therefore you must have taken synthetic testosterone or DHEA or the androstenedione precursor. They could sort it out and tell you which it was but that costs more money and they don’t like that.”

Tygart said there was no need to distinguish testosterone from DHEA in the cases of Hamilton, Williams and Zirbel because each athlete agreed to their sanction. In the cases of Hamilton and Williams, they raised their hands to DHEA. Zirbel said he only theorized that DHEA was the source of his positive test and agreed to his sanction because he didn’t want to pull together, and wasn’t sure he could, the financial resources to fight it. Had he, there’s a chance he would have emerged, like Merritt, with his sporting reputation intact. Tygart said all forms of anabolic agents like DHEA are prohibited under the WADA code and as such there was no need to identify the specific anabolic agent responsible for triggering Zirbel’s adverse analytical finding. Whether it had little to no performance enhancing effect doesn’t matter. He added that, per WADA code, every athlete is responsible for what they put in their body.

Zirbel: test my samples, please

Catlin ball parked his test at an extra $100 to $150 per unit. In 2011, USADA’s budget was approximately $14 million, about 75 percent of which was footed by U.S. tax payers. In that year, USADA requested 8,031 drug screens in 34 different sports. USADA would not release how many of those were CIR tests but did state that each CIR costs about $500. If all those tests were CIRs – and it’s unlikely that they were – Catlin’s estimate on the high end puts a more accurate test at about $600,000 annually or about a 2.25 percent increase in the total operating budget for USADA.

For Zirbel, that’s money well spent. He said that he’d like his samples re-evaluated with the more accurate test. In an email he stated, “I would love to get more conclusive information on my positive test.  I’ve been planning to reconnect with USADA this offseason to see if they’ll be more forthcoming with information…”

In the months following Zirbel’s positive test he reconsidered his retirement. During the re-testing of his samples at a WADA accredited lab in Salt Lake City, Utah he struck up a conversation with a USADA lawyer who was there to oversee the proceedings. Zirbel asked about an ongoing USADA investigation into his former teammate and North Vancouver, Canada resident Kirk O’Bee. Zirbel thought little of the conversation at the time but several weeks later the lawyer contacted him asking if he knew anything about the case.

O’Bee’s old lady turned him in

O’Bee tested positive in May 2009 for EPO and was fighting a lifetime ban and the forfeiter of prize money back to 2003. His undoing began when the mother of his two children, Suzanne Johnson of North Vancouver, Canada, ended their on-again off-again eight-year relationship. She filed a restraining order against him and turned over computer files to USADA that showed conclusively that as far back as 2005 he purchased EPO and HGH along with a hemoglobin meter and a micro-hematocrit centrifuge to measure the percentage of oxygen carrying red blood cells in his body.

“After his (O’Bee’s) sample went positive he confided in this person that he had been doing it (using performance enhancing drugs) for years,” Zirbel said. “We all thought he was owning up to it when in fact he was fighting it (the results of his positive test result).”

Zirbel put USADA in contact with the person whom O’Bee confided. He would not say who that person was, but Bissell team manager Glen Mitchel, Zirbel’s former boss, who testified at the AAA hearing, said that O’Bee had confided in him that he used EPO for “specific races here and there.” Soon after, USADA announced that O’Bee, a U.S. national champion on the road and track, accepted a lifetime ban for a second positive drug test. It’s worth noting that in 2008 O’Bee partnered with Williams to finish third at the Burnaby Six-Day race in Bernaby, Canada.

Zirbel’s involvement in USADA investigations didn’t end there. According to Tygart he provided helpful information in another case in which USADA was entangled. Neither he nor Zirbel would say which one, but during the timeframe in which Zirbel was suspended, USADA was embroiled in an ongoing arbitration with Eugene native and former national junior champion Phil Zajicek. Both parties appeared before an AAA panel in September 2010 with that round going to Zajicek, but on appeal USADA met its burden of proof requirement concerning Zajicek’s purchases of EPO and HGH. It was later learned that those sales were facilitated by Papp.

In March of this year, USADA announced that Zirbel’s sanctioned would be reduced to time served, 16 months, and he could resume racing. In June USADA announced Zajicek, a former teammate of O’Bee with the Navigators Insurance Cycling Team, accepted a lifetime ban for buying EPO and HGH and was given a third doping offense and a $5,000 fine for lying to an American Arbitration Association panel and encouraging witnesses in his case to do the same. Some have concluded that, given the timeline, Zirbel played a role in the Zajicek case.

“They had an ongoing case that they were trying to win and that’s why they reduced my sanction,” Zirbel said. “I saved them money and I saved them face.”

In March of this year Zirbel finished second at the national time trial championships in Greenville, S.C. In July he finished fifth at the Cascade Cycling Classic in Bend, Ore.

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SIX DEGREES OF LANCE ARMSTRONG:

Disgraced former Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong was teammates with Olympic gold medalist Tyler Hamilton. Hamilton (who received an eight year sanction for a second doping violation) is a former a teammate of Joe Papp Papp brokered a deal that led to the sale of EPO to Eugene native and former national champion Phil Zajicek. Zajicek (who received a lifetime ban for a third doping violation) is a former teammate of Vancouver, Canada resident and two-time national champion Kirk O’Bee. O’Bee (who received a lifetime ban for a second doping violation) is a former racing partner on the track of Seattle-area resident and national champion Kenny Williams. Williams (who served a two year sanction for a doping violation that ended in January) is married to world masters champion Annette Hanson-Williams (who tested positive for a ban substance in 2001).

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