Belgian cyclo-cross star Toon Aerts has been suspended from competition for two years following a positive anti-doping test for the testosterone-boosting drug letrozole.
The former World Cup winner had argued that he tested positive due to contamination from a dietary supplement, but this was unable to be proved.
Therefore, he has been handed a two-year ban from cycling dating from 16 February 2022 by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), cycling's governing body, with race results between the positive test and his provisional suspension also wiped, it was announced on Friday.
Letrozole Metabolite is used by people who take anabolic steroids and wish to block feminising effects or boost testosterone production. It is strictly prohibited in and out of competition and is considered a “specified substance” that does not require a mandatory provisional suspension.
The out-of-competition test took place just before the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Fayetteville, USA in 2022, where Aerts finished in sixth behind the winner Tom Pidcock.
“The Tribunal found Toon Aerts guilty of an anti-doping rule violation (presence of letrozole metabolite in a sample collected out-of-competition on 19 January 2022) and imposed a two-year period of ineligibility, starting from 16 February 2022 (the date on which he accepted a provisional suspension),” the UCI's statement read.
“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 and imposed the standard sanction under the UCI Anti-Doping Rules (ADR) and the World Anti-Doping Code for the presence of letrozole.”
At the end of last year, when he was notified of the potential ban, Aerts said: "This is a very severe punishment. A much too severe punishment for someone who can say with a clear conscience that he is not a doping sinner.”
"We can say with 100 percent certainty that that product ended up in Toon's body due to contamination," Yannick Prévost, his manager, said at the time.
"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."
Aerts now has one month to appeal the ruling at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
His is similar to the case currently affecting Belgian cyclist Shari Bossuyt (Canyon-SRAM). The 22-year-old returned a positive test for letrozole in an anti-doping control during the Tour de Normandie Féminin in March.
Speaking in a press conference, Bossuyt said she has "never consciously used" the drug and, like Aerts, believed her sample was contaminated.
In a statement following the Bossuyt revelation in June, Aerts said: "My emotions have turned to a sort of anger lately, though I try not to get too worked up about it either. I've done everything to prove my innocence, but I can't get much further. The days are ticking away, every day that passes is a step. The days go slow, too slow. I still have no idea of my future as a person and a rider.
"At the moment I find support at the school where I started teaching. Students and colleagues see me as a normal person, not an athlete in trouble. I hope that Shari will soon find something to hold on to in her life. The long time I've been sitting working on the file, everything I've already learned about procedures, letrozole and whatever comes next I will hand over to Shari so hopefully they don't have the same fate like myself."
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