Belgian cyclo-cross star Toon Aerts has revealed that he is set to receive a two-year suspension from the UCI after testing positive earlier this year for the specified substance, letrozole.
The drug is used to block oestrogen during the treatment of breast cancer, but is used in doping to help boost the production of testosterone.
The 29 year old was in tears as he broke the news of the proposed sanction at a press conference this morning but said he hoped analysis of samples of his hair, which has not been cut since he was told of the adverse analytical finding, will prove his assertion that he is the victim of contamination.
The sample that led to the positive result was taken from Aerts a week and a half before the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Fayeteville, Arkansas, won by Great Britain’s Tom Pidcock, with Aerts finishing sixth.
As a specified substance, a positive test does not result in an automatic suspension, but Aerts decided to suspend himself from competition while he prepared his defence, reports Sporza.
“Today I have to tell the world something that I actually don’t want to,” said Aerts as the press conference began.
“Unfortunately this week I received a letter from the UCI that no-one wants to receive. It says that the UCI is proposing a 2-year suspension.
“This is a very severe punishment,” he continued. “Much too severe for someone who stands up straight and can state in good conscience that he is not guilty of doping.
I have never had the intention to use doping and I have never voluntarily taken doping products to improve my performance,” he maintained.
“I will continue to do everything I can to prove my innocence.”
The proposed two-year suspension, instead of the usual four years for a four-year offence, is due to the UCI recognising that the presence of a small amount of letrozole in his system was unintentional, explained Aerts.
However, his lawyers have thus far been unable to prove to the governing body’s satisfaction that it came to be there as the result of a contaminated dietary supplement, and Aerts insisted that the two-year ban that has been proposed is “excessively severe.”
As things stand, his 10-month voluntary suspension from racing, during which time he has been placed on the inactive roster by his Baloise-Trek team, means that a two-year ban would expire on 15 February 2024, ruling him out of next winter’s cyclo-cross season.
His manager, Yannick Prévost, said: “We can say with 100 per cent certainty that that product ended up in Toon’s body due to contamination.
“We suspect the source of contamination, but that has not yet been confirmed.”
“We will continue to analyse supplements and any potential issues that Toon may have taken during that time.”
“Hopefully we will find a track on which we can continue working,” Prévost added.
Aerts said that he hoped samples taken from his hair would be able to prove his innocence.
“Hair samples often provide a breakthrough in murder cases,” he said. “Now we will use it in a doping case, because the evidence is in my hair.”
The rider is due to appear before the UCI’s anti-doping tribunal next month to put forward his defence and oppose the proposed suspension.
“We can expect a verdict in two to three months,” Prévost said. “If the verdict is negative, we can still go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“In the best case we get a reduced sentence, in the worst case Toon can only compete again on February 16 ,” he added.
In an era of cyclo-cross dominated by Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel, Aerts has been a consistent podium finisher and has also clinched a number of major results including the UEC European title in 2016 and the Belgian national title three years later.
He has twice topped the standings in the season-long UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup, and won the Superprestige series in 2020-21 – a season in which he also won his third successive bronze medal at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships.
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