Friday, February 26, 2010

Semblance of Control

I'm tired of having my destiny in someone else's hands. But today is a different day. Today is the day I take back the reins. However, today is not yesterday...yesterday was the day I was to cut all ties completely. Today, I have a slightly cooler head but the idea is the same. You can thank Rebecca for this 'resignation' letter not going out yesterday:

I officially received a 2 year sanction notification from USADA today. No big surprise, right? I alluded to this weeks ago. But my reaction is a surprise. Call it the straw that broke the camel's back – I don't know. Whatever the trigger, I've decided to walk away from the sport. I haven't talked to the friends and family or anyone else about this. Call it a rash decision if you like, but I'll try to explain my reasoning so that you can understand where I'm coming from.
I've been watching the Olympics these last few days and it has been really inspiring for me. For the first time, I can see myself standing on the podium, bowing my head to receive my medal. This is a breakthrough for me. It helped me affirm to myself that I need to come back from this ordeal and rise to the top and accomplish greater things in the sport of cycling. Today, I started asking “Why?”. Why do I 'need' to come back? Well, because I've felt this burning in my gut these last two weeks, propelling me to work harder and become faster than I ever have before. Okay, but that doesn't answer the question, I can do that without racing. Maybe it's because I've grown accustomed to the cycling spotlight and people looking up to me. Maybe it's because I want to show all these doubters just how strong I am. Maybe it's because I want to continue to live the 'pro' lifestyle. I think we're getting to the crux of the reason for a comeback now. But what am I truly after in this life? Asking myself this question today the answer was “to be extraordinary”. I want nothing to do with mediocrity. But on top of that (and what I've lost sight of in the last few years), I want to improve the world. Yes, I am a na├»ve, 30-something dreamer, but I want to help save the world. And I always said that I would use cycling to amass influence and monies and then put myself to good use in helping my causes of choice (like a certain Texan who is a Saint in the cancer community). But the reality is, cycling and racing so consume me that I have little time or energy for anything beyond myself. My first year out of college, I made $28k working at a chemistry lab in Boulder. During that year, I managed to work 40 hrs/week, train between 70-100 miles/week running (which led to a 2:31:40 marathon), buy a new car for my mom, and give around $1000 to various charities. A few years later, when I decided to put everything I had into becoming a pro cyclist, I worked around 25 hrs/week delivering pizzas, trained around 20 hrs/week cycling, and volunteered at the homeless shelter twice a week because I was barely making ends meet and couldn't donate money. For comparison, last year I made more money than I ever have in my life, had no other job than racing my bike 70 or so times during the year, and still only gave maybe $300 to charities over the course of the year and sometimes went months between contacting the teenage boy whom I'm mentoring. What's extraordinary in that? What's more extraordinary – if Greg Mortenson would have made it to the summit of K2 or if Greg Mortenson failed to summit K2 and instead dedicated his life to building hundreds of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan? I'd say the latter. What's more extraordinary – Eric Heiden the amazing skater and cyclist or Eric Heiden the amazing surgeon? How about Davis Phinney the cyclist or Davis Phinney the Parkinson's crusader? I've come to the realization that I would rather be a David Benke than a Cancellara. I would rather help the boy I'm mentoring graduate from college and break the cycle of poverty in his family than win a Pro Tour TT. To me, the life I'm choosing from this day on is more challenging and potentially rewarding than the life of training to ride in a straight line really fast for 40 minutes. For whatever reason, I haven't been able to do both so it's time to step back and re-prioritize.
And no, I would never have come to this decision without this positive doping test fiasco. So, maybe there's the good out of this situation. Am I giving up? In a way, I'd say I was giving up on my dream while being a pro cyclist. I was so self-absorbed that I did little good with life beyond my self.
And so that's that. It's been fun. I'm taking so many wonderful memories and relationships from the last 6 years with me. And now that I'm done with all of this, I want you to hear the truth once and for all. Come in close so I can whisper.....I didn't dope.”

Today, I laid all my cards on the table for USADA. I told them everything that I know about the positive test, meaning every possible lead as to how it happened, and that I will cooperate in any way that I can. As great as my lawyer has been for me, I told him that I needed to do this on my own from now on. I have no intention of taking this case to a hearing. Now that I've made the determination that I really could and would walk away from the sport forever, it's liberating. USADA, WADA, and the UCI no longer have power over me. But I will continue to jump through a few hoops (if not too high nor on fire) in order to leave the option open for a return in years to come (though I sort of hope I have the courage to begin a completely new career and never look back). I will continue to try and figure out how this happened so that I know for my own sanity and so it won't happen to someone else, but that is a separate issue. I'm ready to turn the page and start living a better, more fulfilling life. Whether or not bicycle racing is in that future is too foggy to tell. I hope you all can understand why I've chosen this road. It feels so good to be out of the holding pattern.
Okay, I gotta go. I have some jobs to apply for!


Amber and Eric Rydholm said...

The quote in my planner today is
"In the darkest hour the soul is replenished and given strength to continue and endure"
-Heart Warrior Chosa

Anonymous said...

There is nothing synthetic about your work ethic, nothing synthetic about the way you trained(running or more recently biking), and nothing synthetic about how you raced. More importantly though, there is nothing synthetic about the type of person you are. You are truly one to look up to Zirb!
Keep up the good worked in what ever you decide to do.

Anonymous said...

Inspiring and honest. Kudos.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

beautiful post and especially inspiring for all us amateur cyclists out there, madly scrambling from work to family/friends to cycling, never feeling like we're accomplishing enough in the sport. Just doing it while being the best possible citizen of the world is accomplishment enough.

Jen and Andy Harmon said...

You are not mediocre, my friend. Peace be the journey.

Anonymous said...

Tom, as a fellow professional athlete and someone who knows you, I know that you don't measure yourself on what people think but on what you acknowledge in yourself as the correct morals and actions. This once again shows the flaws in the rigid system that can determine an athletes career and fate and it's crap that they can have that power AND room for error and misinterpretation. Your fellow athletes believe in you Tom, I think that says a lot. Hold your head high, be proud in your integrity and keep on giving on. Whilst they can treat you like just another cover on a book, some of us know what is inside.

Keith said...

Bueno, Tom ... or is it to be "Dr. Zirbel"? As always, you're inspirational; and naturally it doesn't matter if you're on the bike, famous or just some Boulder dude making a difference. You're extraordinary either way.

We gotta get out for that ride, though, so don't throw away your bikes yet ;)

DarbyRides™ said...

Keep your head up. Stay honest. The truth, even if it should be painful, and I am not saying it is, is freedom. Your fans genuinely wish you the best. You're in my prayers.

David said...

I'll really miss seeing you around the races Tom. You are a classy man with a lot to offer the world, enjoy the rest of the trip!

Take care friend....

Dave Towle

Tom Bachmann said...

Bloody hell! Tom, you are a remarkable guy. I have to admit that I didn't really and still don't know you, and with that positive test you were just one of those stupid dopers to me. But today I read your blog and now I think I have a clearer idea of what kind of person you are. Your blog really touched me (hope that's the right english expression) and I'd like to say that I wish you all the best in your life and truly hope you'll sit on a chair on your veranda when you're 80, look back at your life and come to the conclusion you did some extraordinary things in your life.

Christopher said...

Tom, there is a whole new world waiting for your devotion and attention. On thing that can change your life is to look at this website:

Look at the diagrams. Read the writings. Think about the implications.

And go from there. We need some extra-ordinary people to help push the message.

Blessings on your journey,
Chris P.

Anonymous said...

Bold. keep thinking bold. Lay your cards on the public table. Make no claims to innocence or guilt. Let us suss it out. All your tests over the past year, post them. The case you laid out to USADA, post it.

Steerpike said...

Most cyclists found in violation of the anti-doping code deny they did anything wrong, even after the violation has been proven in the manner required by the code. You can count on one hand the exceptions to this general rule. You’d need to grow a lot of hands to count the people like you. I do think you are in a hard period in your life. I do feel sorry for you, and I do wish you well. But I don’t believe you, and I am glad to see you “turn your back” on the sport. It certainly has turned its back on you.

Anonymous said...

Your passion for helping others is quite inspiration. Wishing you the best of luck on your next move. May it be extraordinary!

jonMholmes said...


If you desire to do some charitable and restorative cycling, then we may have an opportunity you'd connect with. The way you've handled this has been classy from day 1. May your new career path provide you with a deep sense of contentment. Whatever your charitable endeavor... the world will be changed for the better with your firm decision to invest in other's well-being in place of personal glory. Much Wellness to You, @jonofTeamWILL

Anonymous said...

Go back to Grad school! Great way to prepare yourself for your next phase. I appreciated watching you at various NVGPs here in MN. Now you can just ride for the rest of us.

Good luck Tom!

Herb Jimenez said...

What a great man (in the complete sense of the word) this kid will become one day!!! Best of luck in the future, Tom...

Anonymous said...

Tom Zirbel 1
Racing 0

Anonymous said...

Don't look back that part of your life is over although you may miss it from time to time. Look forward, the next step is a new adventure. I'll miss watching you race but I can tell you have bigger things to do. I'd still like to get you into the BWCAW I think you're the kind of person who'd love it up there. Remember I'm not getting any younger just let me know when/if you'd like to go and bring your Honey too.
Don H

steve said...

I arrived here from another cycling blog, and to be honest this is the first I've heard of you. But your post is remarkable and by far the most credible denial I've ever heard. Best of luck to you in all your endeavors. Steve

Kris Ruther said...

Tom! how amazing of a person you are and will always are still a hero to me! Whatever your life choice in terms of your future I plan to support you 110%! in sincerity,
kris ruther

Anonymous said...

"I would rather be a David Benke than a Cancellara."

I doubt it's your intent, but this comes off as disrespectful to Cancellara. Who's to say Cancellara isn't a charitable guy who does things for others? See this:

I would also say that many people mix athletics and charity at the same time. Think about Bahati, Leipheimer, and Lance Armstrong himself.

Anonymous said...

tom-- none of this surprises me... I have always thought of you as one of the most high class people in the peloton...the real deal.. a fine example of a human being more than a really fast bike racer. Good luck in whatever you do... you are clearly farther along in your goal than you may realize. be well! --Lucky Pete

anon said...

This whole doping thing in cycling is out of hand, and not in the way most people think. The reality is that most folks actually don't dope.. its the select few that do that has caused issues. The media has latched onto it as a huge revenue engine and exploits it as such. The system is setup so that they can "NEVER BE WRONG". What if, 30% of the folks accused/tested + of doping are actually innocent.. or even 1%? the media and doping system makes sure to not let there be even .001% that get accidentally false-positive.. as that would undermine their credibility.. And when someone accused does point out the problems with the system, they seem to continue to go after him/her again/again and again.. (aka FL)

NinjaPonyDad said...

Taking the reins, indeed!
I have followed your rise in cycling, and expect to see your rise in your next venture. Kudos on your clear thought and open heart, now you can really fly!

marty said...

@ anon (2/26 10:04 pm) Spot on!!!

"...I know that you don't measure yourself on what people think but on what you acknowledge in yourself as the correct morals and actions. This once again shows the flaws in the rigid system that can determine an athletes career and fate and it's crap that they can have that power AND room for error and misinterpretation. Your fellow athletes believe in you Tom, I think that says a lot. Hold your head high, be proud in your integrity and keep on.. "

What really matters at the end of the day is your own conscience - the little voice that tells you if you are good to go or not.

Wishing you all the best in whatever you do.

Tate said...

Thatta way TZ!

JC VanDeventer said...

Nothing should give a rider more fear than the Scott Moniger case. You are right riders need rights. Without rider rights in the end we have no sport. Good luck from here.

josh whitney said...

Inspiring thoughts and actions, Tom. Best of luck with what lies ahead.

Anonymous said...

I did not dope...

Tom, I was happy to see another tall dude in the pro peloton and I do respect your decision but you cant say you did not dope. Maybe not intentionally but to my knowledge both samples were positive.

This screwed up world needs more good guys like you.

I'm sure you will be happy in your "next" life.

Good decision and good luck!


Paola said...

way to go, TZ, You are an inspiration for me and everybody!

Paola said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
whareagle said...

Tom, what happened to you is yet another injustice by the ADA's and their minions. I hope they grind their own teeth down to the nubs at night as they restlessly replay the evil deeds they've done in their hunt for 'justice'. F'ers.

One question - have you contacted Amber Neben's attorney? I mean, she had tainted supplements, and yet she only got 6 months. What gives with that? Sexism? Some admission of something? Either way, you've got my support. You ever come through Dallas, don't hesitate to call. whareagle at

Wendy said...

Tom, this post is heartfelt, courageous, intelligent, and authentic, just like you. You do make a difference in everything you do, and inspire us continually through who you are, what you do, the choices you make, and your unwavering faith in the little things that make the world a better place. We love you!

Dave M said...

I can't believe our friendship has lasted only 10 years as it feels like a lifetime. You are the classiest and most honest guy inside and outside of sport that I know. Continue to focus on the values of your inner self and your next path in life will become clear.

Besides, we can always do pairs Luge at Sochi in 2014. You can be on top.

Luis-Alejandro said...

This is the best thing I have read. Thanks for sharing, and I wish you the best in everything that you do. I am sure your energy will move this world in a positive way, and you will have a very positive sense in this world, and life of others with this attitude. Best of luck

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the honesty and clarity you've brought to these proceedings. Once the bitterness has passed, perhaps you can help the disadvantaged, whether they be wrongly-accused cyclists or another segment of humanity. One thing that must change is the puritanical nature of the USADA, wherein every cyclist's guilt is assumed. Dangerous race conditions and your case have highlighted the need for some sort of riders' union both domestically and abroad. Best of luck, hoping you can change the world you know positively.

Sara said...

Well hey if you have some time on your hands, come VISIT ME :)

eightplustwo said...

I hope you get a chance to read this:

JIM said...

Tom: Move to Minneapolis. You'd like it here, and we'd teach you about the part of cycling where we improve our "performance" with alcohol, and our "performance" is our win/loss ratio in Bear/Ninja/Cowboy.

You'd like it up here. You might even get a chance to get some "you suck, doper" jackasses in punching distance.

Proud of you,
The Mechanic's Brother

Soul Rider said...

Just wanted to say good luck in your pursuits, Tom.

I'll very much miss watching you race for Garmin this summer. I'm happy you're using the whole situation to get back to other passions.

Keep up the good work, Tom. The world could use quite a few more people like you.

ZENmud productions said...

Hi Tom,

Whareagle thought I should look at your blog/case (I'm still 'upside down' from moving Stateside from Switzerland two months ago...)

If you are going to a hearing, be well-read about WADA Code (and corresponding UCI/USA Cycling) articles:

WADC Article 6.4:
Laboratories shall analyze Doping Control Samples and report results in conformity with the International Standard for Laboratories.
(This literally forces 'strict liability' on lab work, although you wouldn't know it from Floyd's case...)
WADC Article 7.1:
Upon receipt of an A Sample Adverse Analytical Finding, the Anti-Doping Organization responsible for results management shall conduct a review to
determine whether:
(b) there is any apparent departure from the International Standard for Testing or International Standard for Laboratories that caused the Adverse Analytical Finding.

and 7.2:
If the initial review of an Adverse Analytical Finding under Article 7.1 does not reveal a [...] departure that caused the Adverse Analytical Finding [... etc.]

In legalese, these tell an Athlete that the ADO (in your case USADA) *shall* confirm the scientific accuracy of lab evidence, and inform you of any departures therefrom... WADA has never been legally tested on that.

(certainly the lab here has less ethical challenges than our favourite French lab, so showing a 'departure' requires rigorous review of the evidence...)

On another note, WADA should be offering a 'Seal of Approval' that nutritional supplement sellers can 'earn', but they haven't figured that out yet: they'd rather bust Athletes! (that they could double their budget by charging for that 'accreditation' for the manufacturers...

ZENmud aka WADAwatch

Shawna Wilcher said...

Tom, I don't understand how some of these readers can post such negativity or judgement.
It doesn't matter what WE know YOU the best.
All I you were an inspiring rider. My first time of "knowing" you is coming into 2008 Amgen's last leg (Pasadena) riding out front and hard. Being a very new rider, you inspired overweight, 38 year old mom/housewife who never had been to a cycling race in her in entire life.
Since then..I would look to see where you were going with cycling...because you were/are that good.
But reading this are even more inspiring. Being a mentor is far more heroic than riding a bike. Sure I love cycling...and the riders and supporting them.
But the unsung heroes are guys like you...doing things you don't get recognition for!
Our family will miss you at the Amgen, Redlands Classic...and Cascades.
Don't stop blogging!
You are still amazing and we support you 100%. And you have an amazing family who care about you and love you unconditionally.

Leif said...

Hey Tom, I've been following your case since I heard about it a few months ago. Sorry to see that it worked out this way. Anyone that knows you, knows what an honest, hardworking guy you are and I don't have a doubt in my mind that this whole situation is the result of you being wronged in some way or another (unreliable test protocol, tainted supplements, who knows).

Best of luck in your future endeavours, we'll have to catch up and go for a run for old time's sake next time we're both back in cl.


phazelag said...


I am a fan no matter what. I heard about you last year from friend of one of your relatives.

I would have never known your character from sound bites on versus. You are and will be amazing.

If your in SoCal there are a bunch of us who share your values that would like to meet you.

Any chance we will see you doing a triathlon in Kona?

Scott Z

Anonymous said...

@ whareagle: Amber Neben case is different. She found that Hammer nutrition products were contaminated after further testing and she lawsuit them. Not sure about the ruling. She tested different batches and Hammer said her team tested negative. No sexism involved or admission.

Tom did not reached this level yet and still consider a doper.