Toon Aerts vows to fight two-year racing ban

Belgian cyclocross star denies knowingly taking banned substances, and vows to legally challenge a ban.

Photo: ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

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Cyclocross star Toon Aerts is facing a two-year racing ban after the Belgian tested positive for traces of letrozole metabolite during an out-of-competition control in January.

Aerts gave a tearful press conference Thursday after receiving a message from anti-doping authorities about a likely ban.

Aerts contends he did not take the product knowingly, and suggests it might have entered his body via a contaminated nutritional product.

“Unfortunately I received a letter that no one wants to receive,” Aerts said during a press conference. “This is a very severe punishment. A much too severe punishment for someone who stands up straight and can state in good conscience that he is not a doping sinner.”

According to USADA, letrozole metabolite is “an aromatase inhibitor, meaning that it blocks an enzyme responsible for a key step in the formation of estrogens.”

It can be used to treat some forms of breast cancer, but it can enhance performance by increasing the level of testosterone.

The product is listed as prohibited at all times both in and out-of-competition in the category of “hormone and metabolic modulators” on the World Anti-Doping Agency Prohibited List, according to USADA.

Aerts, who has not raced since the control in January 2022, insists that the levels were so low in his system that they could equate any sort of performance boost. Aerts vows he never knowingly doped.

Lawyers argued that the product likely came from a contaminated dietary supplement, though they have not yet found the likely source.

Aerts has not cut his hair since the initial control in January 2022, and hopes to be able to demonstrate in part using hair samples that he did not try to dope.

Aerts’ legal team will make an argument before the UCI anti-doping panel, and could appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

There was no official comment from the UCI on Thursday, but according to Aerts’ lawyers, the cycling federation is offering a two-year ban instead of a four-year ban.

“I will continue to do everything I can to prove my innocence,” Aerts said. “I am convinced that I will take my place in cyclocross again. I have a lot of uncertainties, but one thing is certain: my second career will start on February 16, 2024 at the latest.”

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