Urine samples being tested for EPO are supposed to show a certain amount of EPO, which is naturally produced in the body. But what if the sample shows absolutely none? This is happening more and more frequently, according to the Neue Züricher Zeitung, and allegedly some cyclists are using some sort of powder to affect their urine tests. The paper reports that Swiss TV SF1 has identified this powder as protease, an enzyme in laundry detergent which usually works as a stain remover, giving a whole new twist to the term "racing clean". And a familiar big name is mentioned in association with the new problem - Jan Ullrich.
The theory goes this way: The athlete puts a little of the powder in the pockets of his pants. Before urinating, he puts his fingers into it, and urinates over his fingers at the control, so that the enzyme is mixed with his urine in the container. This little amount is sufficient to destroy the protein, and therefore the EPO, in the urine. "Protease is simply easy to use, cheap and available without prescription - and thus an almost perfect aid for the deceptive athlete," says the NZZ.
The process doesn't seem to have become too popular yet. Marial Saugy, director of the Lausanne doping laboratory, said that "less than 10 percent of the samples" showed a zero EPO value. This did not necessarily mean that protease was being used, but the lab is currently testing the enzyme. "We should have legally acceptable evidence within a few months," he said.
Matthias Kamber, head of the antidoping department of the Swiss federal agency for sport, was reportedly the first to identify the problem. He noticed that over the last few months, more than a dozen doping samples containing no EPO at all were delivered. He listed the cases and noticed that some of them matched certain athletes. "That led us to suspect manipulation," he said. After conferring with other experts, he came to the conclusion that protease was involved and turned the matter over the Lausanne lab in spring 2006.
According to SF1, one of the doping samples without EPO belonged to Jan Ullrich and was taken in South Africa in December 2005. The NZZ reported that there were at least two other similar samples form Ullrich according to its sources, and that a link to the evidence uncovered in Operation Puerto was possible: Certain documents uncovered by the Spanish Guardia Civil relating to Ullrich repeatedly used the word "polvos" - powder.
Courtesy of Susan Westemeyer
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