As anyone who grew up in the UK in the 1980s will know all too well, a stubborn refusal to drink milk could have a catastrophic effect on one’s footballing abilities, condemning aspiring youngsters to a career of fruitless exertion for minnows like Accrington Stanley (Who are they? Exactly).
But for the pro cyclists descending on Normandy – where both Toon Aerts and Shari Bossuyt recently tested positive for the same drug – to race this weekend’s sixth round of the UCI cyclocross World Cup, the opposite could prove to be the case, with the riders’ management warning those taking part on Sunday to avoid consuming dairy products, lest the same anti-doping fate befall them.
Belgian cyclocross star Aerts and Canyon-Sram rider Bossuyt tested positive for the cancer drug Letrozole while racing in Flamanville, where this weekend’s World Cup round will be held.
Aerts received a two-year ban after submitting a positive out-of-competition doping control for the metabolites of the drug – which is primarily used to block oestrogen during the treatment of breast cancer, but is banned by WADA due to its ability to boost testosterone levels and reduce or prevent the feminising effects of anabolic steroid use – three days after racing the cyclocross World Cup round in Flamanville in January 2022.
Meanwhile, 2022 Madison world champion Bossuyt was racing at the Tour of Normandy – the second stage of which finished in Flamanville – when she tested positive for Letrozole.
While Letrozole is regarded by the UCI as a specified substance, meaning it does not come with an automatic provisional suspension, both Aerts and Bossuyt stepped back from racing as they attempted to find an explanation for their positive tests, which they claim were the result of a contaminated substance ingested while racing in Normandy.
And now, in a move that will surely anger the region’s farmers – similar to Alberto Contador’s infamous ‘tainted beef’ defence following his positive test for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France – Yannick Prévost of ISEA Sport Management, who represents both Aerts and Bossuyt, has sent a warning to other riders in his stable, including European cyclocross champion Michael Vanthourenhout, telling them to avoid local dairy products while racing in Flamanville this weekend.
According to Sporza, the letter advised riders to bring their own food from Belgium and argued that the duo’s positives came about because dairy farmers in Normandy may be using Letrozole to synchronise their cows’ estrus cycles for fertilisation.
“That is why we have personally advised all our riders who will ride in Flamanville on Sunday to consume as little dairy products (such as yogurt and milk) from the region as possible. We also advised them to bring all their food with them from Belgium,” the management’s letter said.
“We still base this on our hypothesis that Toon and Shari tested positive after consuming dairy products in Flamanville. Their files show too many similarities to neglect this.
“Letrozole metabolite may be present in cow’s milk. Our hypothesis is that their positive test is due to this, but this has not been confirmed by laboratory analyses.”
At a press conference in June called to announce Bossuyt’s positive test, her manager Prévost insisted that the Canyon-Sram rider and Aerts were not dopers, but victims.
“We have been working on this file for a year,” Prevost said. “It is very difficult to prove that it is a contamination from food.
“We are walking a track, but we cannot yet make it concrete. What we can say is that Shari and Toon both tested positive after competitions in Normandy, in Flamanville to be precise.
“Letrozole is used for the fertilisation of cows and sheep. That is a relatively new technique. It is currently a hypothesis that we cannot yet substantiate. Because the food industry does not yet test for Letrozole.
“Shari and Toon are not doping users, but victims.”
One of cyclocross’ leading riders for much of the last decade, Aerts was banned by the UCI for two years at the start of 2023, backdated to the time of his positive test in February 2022, and stripped of any results obtained between 19 January and 5 February 2022.
Despite his contamination defence, which involved the 30-year-old growing his hair to enable medical analysis to be carried out, the UCI ruled that “after a thorough examination of the case, including several expert reports submitted by the Belgian rider, the Tribunal considered that Toon Aerts had failed to establish how the prohibited substance entered his body.”
Following the UCI’s verdict, the Belgian rider launched a fierce criticism of the governing body and its treatment of “flesh-and-blood people”.
“I never took doping and ever even considered it. After a year and a half in a legal tug-of-war, now portrayed as a cheater. Along with my entire family and surrounds suddenly labelled losers. It hurts and it doesn’t feel right,” he said in a letter posted on social media.
“Well here UCI, a bit and heartfelt middle finger! You could have made us the happiest people on earth… But who is Toon Aerts in the big circus of cycling?”
Aerts will be free to compete again from 16 February, just before the current cyclocross season ends, with recent reports in Belgian suggesting that he has signed a new two-year contract with the Deschacht-Hens-Maes team.
Meanwhile, 23-year-old Bossuyt – who won a stage of this year’s Tour of Normandy, where she recorded her positive test – is still pleading her case, but admitted last month that her dream of partnering Belgian teammate Lotte Kopecky in the Madison at next year’s Paris Olympics is “over”.
Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.