Garmin-Transitions general manager Jonathan Vaughters looked like his new signing was going to be a star performer on the Euro circuit when Tom Zirbel finished an excellent fourth in the world time trial championships in Mendrisio, Switzerland, in September, but less than two months later, the rider was off the planned 2010 roster. Zirbel learned of his positive test for Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in mid-November and soon after that, he told his existing team Bissell Pro Cycling and his future squad Garmin-Transitions, about the adverse finding.
Zirbel publicly announced the news on Sunday, confirming rumours that had been circulating. He is currently awaiting the results of the B sample and if that backs up the initial finding, will have to appear before USADA to plead his case.
Zirbel will hope that the agency will not give him a full two year ban. It is believed – but not confirmed - that supplement contamination would be his line of defence. He has insisted that he never knowingly took a banned substance.
Whatever happens, his chance to ride with Garmin appears to be gone. "Tom has been upfront with me about this process from the beginning,” Vaughters told Cyclingnews. “However, our anti-doping policy is zero tolerance. Tom alerted us to the situation and as a result he will not be riding for us in 2010.”
Zirbel, 31, has been racing at the professional level since he lined out with the Priority Health cycling team in 2006. He looked poised to try his hand at European racing next season but, unless the B sample result differs from the initial finding – something which is extremely rare – he is going to be sidelined from the sport.
Vaughters is running a team with arguably the strongest anti-doping reputation in cycling and is clearly not taking sides. "I hope that USADA comes to the correct and fair solution in this, and every, anti-doping case," he stated.
Zirbel is working with several experts in order to try to clear his name.