The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has reduced Tom Zirbel's two-year suspension by six months having ended his sanction on March 21, 2011. According to Zirbel, his sanctioning was reduced because he aided the agency in two separate anti-doping cases.
"I'm happy to announce that USADA has reduced my sanction to end on March 21, 2011," Zirbel said in an email to Cyclingnews. "Therefore, I have been allowed to race the rest of the 2011 season and beyond though I do not currently belong to a team.
"There is a rule in the WADA Code that allows an anti-doping authority to offer a reduction in sanction in the event of 'Substantial Assistance' from a sanctioned athlete," he said. "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. Of course, none of this would have come about without the help of a new program set up by USOC ombudsman John Ruger."
According to Zirbel, the program was recently started at the CU-Boulder Law School and allows law students to take on real cases of athletes who are fighting a doping violation but don't have the money to get professional representation.
"The program in overseen by a lawyer/professor within the school and I was the first case that they took on," Zirbel said. "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," he said.
Zirbel was handed a two-year suspension from USADA after he tested positive for Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) from a urine sample taken by the anti-doping agency following the US Pro Championships on August 29, 2009. The two year suspension was originally scheduled to end in September of this year.
Zirbel maintains that he did not knowingly ingest the banned substance and worked with a team of chemistry specialists to determine the possibility of food contamination of which he was unable to prove.
"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," Zirbel 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," he said. "That's actually a huge concession considering their track record, so I feel obligated to point that out.
"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."
Before his suspension, Zirbel was recognised as a time trial specialist having placed inside the top 10 at the Tour of California's individual time trial along with two second place finishes in the US Pro Time Trial Championships in 2008 and 2009. He also placed fourth at the International Cycling Union (UCI) Time Trial World Championship held in Mendrisio, Switzerland in 2009.
Following his suspension, Zirbel announced that he would retire from the sport. However, last November he completed in a non-USA Cycling sanctioned event at the Tour de Gruene in Austin, Texas where he broke seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong's time trial record.