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A Closer Look: Zirbel’s DHEA Positive

Fourth in the Worlds Elite TT, second only to Zabriskie in the US TT champs and with a Garmin contract neatly signed. But scratch all of the above and file under, “Another one bites the dust!” albeit the ‘B’ sample might just be ‘clean.’ Zirbel had a promising 2010 ahead of him with Garmin. We asked Paul Coats, who’s a lecturer at Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy & Biomedical Sciences, for an expert view…

Coats’s immediate response? “Zirbel, Jesus.. who knows these days! Seems a strange one though, as I mentioned to you when you asked me about Landis; testosterone or any of the androgens are only useful for recovery. And you can beat the test if you are smart – and most pros are, or at least they have someone keeping them right. Long-gone are the days of using steroids: too easily detected. Only dumb-asses get caught on test these days, even my gran knows that.”

A frustrated Zirbel on the USPRO TT podium – still behind Zabriskie in 2009 and about to give a test sample that would change his life.

What is DHEA anyway?
Paul Coats: DHEA is a pro hormone and is metabolised to more active testosterone, produced naturally and can also be taken as supplement. It’s readily available to buy on internet.

[DHEA is an abbreviation for dehydroepiandrosterone. Produced by the adrenal glands, it is a precursor for the manufacturing of many other hormones in the body, 50 of which are from the adrenal glands. Editor.]

The problem with supplements used in body building is that they add DHEA without listing it, thus making the customer think the product is great and they buy more.

This was a big problem a couple years ago; in the USA there were a few well documented cases of track athletes testing positive due to protein supplements which were contaminated (so the manufacturer said) with DHEA.

Now all the reputable supplement manufacturers provide test results to show their products are free from substances that may produce positive result.

Will Zirbel know how it got in his body?
Coats: He’ll know what he has taken, he clearly has tested positive and unless there is a total screw up his B sample will be positive. It would be useful if the numbers were presented; then we could see how much was in his system.

He states on cyclingnews.com he knows nothing and is ignorant of all this kind of thing. Well, we know all pros know this game inside-out, and he is seasoned pro.

Diet will be a major factor in his training and I’m sure he knows exactly what supplements and food he has taken.”

We’ll probably never know what really happened to Tom. So what happened?
1) His body produces high DHEA: ok, so why has he not tested high before? Therefore, unlikely.

2) Someone spiked his recovery drink: wild claim – possible, but unlikely.

3) He took a supplement contaminated with DHEA: possible – yes it happened in the past, but nowadays quality supplements come with quality control, also he’s probably taking the same supplements as others on his Bissel team, and they have not tested positive. Unless he has his own supplements; but as mentioned he will know what he takes and could provide this to authorities to check for DHEA contamination and in a way, help explain the situation.

4) He is a dumb-ass: applying Occam’s razor principle (ie. the simplest explanation or strategy tends to be the best one) this seems the most likely.”

We will likely never know the truth; but if 4) is correct, what a waste of a great career and potential great 2010 with Garmin. I can’t believe someone at his level can test positive for DHEA – its not like EPO or CERA, it has no big benefits but it carries the same penalty.”

Paul Coats (PhD), Lecturer: Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy & Biomedical Sciences. ‘…waste of a great career.’ – for sure, Paul. With thanks to Paul for his time and expertise.

VeloResults had a reader write in taking aim at another possibility for the recent ‘string’ of DHEA positives:

There’s lots of chat around about how nice a guy Tom is, just like back when Floyd and Tyler was busted – but as we have seen with FL, nice guys can cheat too.

There’s speculation that maybe DHEA is turning up in a lot of positive tests because it’s being used to mask something else, or that a different PED is metabolising in the body and showing up as DHEA.

However, it’s a fact that body builders and other users of anabolic steroids often specifically use DHEA at the end of a testosterone-loading cycle to support the adrenal function and help kick up their body’s natural production of testosterone. This is because when they are taking exogenous testosterone the normal production of testosterone in their system is suppressed and the adrenals are therefore put under some strain.

It’s not a huge leap then, to see how a cyclist might finish a testosterone phase some time before a big race, and then use DHEA to get their body back to natural, normal levels.

Let’s hope that honest justice is served with Zirbel. It remains to be seen whether that will be a gentle hand or a harsh blow.

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