Zirbel winding down pro career at Tour of Utah

After 11 years of professional cycling, Tom Zirbel (Rally Cycling) is winding down his career this week at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. Zirbel announced his impending retirement before the season started.

There's still a slight chance Zirbel could line up for his final pro race at the Tour of Alberta next month, but a possible American Hour Record attempt that is still in the planning stages could conflict with that race, meaning this week's race in Utah could be his last.

"We'll see, because we're still trying to get an hour record date, trying to work with the Mexican federation to go down there at Aguas Caliente a little north of Mexico City," Zirbel told Cyclingnews during last weekend's team presentation in Utah. "It's a really fast track, so we're working on that. If that falls through there's a possibility I could do Alberta, but that's kind of goal one."

If the hour attempt does indeed come off later this year, Zirbel said, he'll be targeting the American Hour Record of 51.505km set by Norm Alvis in September of 1997. Zirbel acknowledged that Bradley Wiggins' current UCI Hour Record of 54.526 is out of reach.

"I don't think most people understand how fast that is," he said. "That is incredibly fast. But, yeah, it would be good to get some good training in and give it my best effort to see how fast I can go. The American record is 51.5 right now. So if I could achieve that I'd be really psyched."

Zirbel started his final season racing with Rally Cycling in Europe, where he was hampered by illness. He returned to the states for the Redlands Bicycle Classic, but the lingering effects from the European trip left him ill-equipped to do much there.

He took his first win of the season as part of Rally's winning team time trial national championship squad, and he followed that with a win in the individual time trial at Tour of the Gila. He finished second to Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) in the US Pro time trial championship, a race he won in 2013, and then scored his next win during the individual time trial at the North Star Grand Prix in Minnesota. He led that race until teammate Evan Huffman took over the lead and eventually won the overall.

The next stop for Zirbel was the Cascade Cycling Classic last month in Bend, Oregon, where Zirbel won the stage 2 individual time trial on the second day, taking the race lead and holding it until the final day, when he slipped to fourth overall on the challenging Awbrey Butte circuit.

"Of course, the initial reactions were just disappointment because we were so close to pulling it off, but it exceeded my expectations," he said. "That was my first NRC race when I started my career, so I have fond memories of that race and I love Bend. It was full of good memories and good experiences there, and we did really well. We just couldn't quite pull it off."

This week the thing Zirbel is trying to pull off is soaking in the all the experiences of what could be his final team race. At the team presentation on Saturday, he told Cyclingnews he was trying to enjoy every moment.

"Sometimes we're like, 'Oh no, a team presentation.' It's kind of a hassle, but I'm going to kind of miss this, you know, being in the same room with a bunch of great athletes and they're making a big hubbub about us being on stage, and it's something I could miss down the road," he said, adding a slight chuckle. "Probably not, but you never know."

Now with stage 1 in the books, Zirbel will have set the nostalgia aside and gotten down to business.

"This is such a hard race that I just want to be there to help Eric [Young] and Pierrick [Naud] in the sprints, and Rob [Britton] in the overall," Zirbel said. "He's riding really well right now, so we're excited to rally around him."

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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.