Former LA-MSS rider and Portuguese road champion João Cabreira was suspended for two years for "tampering with a doping control sample", the Portuguese Cycling Federation announced Friday. The rider is the first to be suspended for a long-suspected technique of using an enzyme called protease to break down products such as EPO in the urine to cheat a doping control.
The Portuguese anti-doping laboratory director, Luis Horta, became suspicious of Cabreira's samples and sent them to Cologne, Germany to check for the presence of protease, an enzyme commonly found in detergents which digests proteins. Use of the substance by athletes to mask EPO use has been suspected since 2006, when anti-doping authorities noticed some rider's samples had no trace of the body's normal EPO molecule.
The German laboratory confirmed the presence of protease in Cabreira's sample, but the he protested, saying he'd never even heard of the substance. The rider insisted he had "done nothing illegal".
"I will fight to the end to prove my innocence," he told the Lusa news agency.
Cabreira, 26, was controlled on May 19, 2008 as part of an investigation of the LA-MSS team by the Judicial Police and the National Anti-Doping Agency (CNAD) which resulted in the seizure of doping substances at the team's headquarters and led the Portuguese Federation to suspend nine members of the team.
Cabreira signed a one-year contract in December with the Continental team CC Loulé-Louletano-Aquashow, but that agreement was suspended after the decision.