Toon Aerts returns to cyclocross following doping suspension

Belgian Toon Aerts is set to return to cyclocross racing in the coming weekend, as he serves the final days of a two year doping suspension. Aerts has a new team and will be able to return to catch a few races at the tail end of the 2024 season, before a planned full 2024/25 season starting this Fall.

Toon Aerts doping suspension ends Februrary 15, 2024

Aerts' suspension comes to a conclusion on Feb. 15, 2024, two years after he was initially banned by the UCI in the run-up to the 2022 cyclocross world championship. He's eligible to race starting on February 16, and plans to get back in action as soon as allowed:

Toon Aerts cyclocross calendar

At the conclusion of his suspension, Toon Aerts is expected to be a likely starter at 3 races:

  • Exact Cross Sint-Niklaas February 17,
  • the X2O Trofee, Brussels Universities February 18,
  • and the Sluitingsprijs Oostmalle on February 25, the last major race on the calendar until the new Fall 2024 season begins.

You can watch Aerts in his return at the first two races on the FloBikes subscription service. I'm not aware of a streaming provider (for viewers in the USA) for the Sluitingsprijs Oostmalle at this time. 

What is Toon Aerts new team?

In Fall 2022, Baloise Trek Lions and Toon Aerts reached a separation agreement in the wake of his suspension, leaving Aerts as a "free agent." In anticipation of a return to cyclocross just before the conclusion of the 2023/24 season, Aerts signed with the Deschacht-Hens-Maes team and will wear their colors in the final 3 races of the 2023/24 season.

On Deschacht-Hens-Maes Aerts will be riding the Cannondale Supersix EVO CX, a bit of a change from the Trek Boone used by the Baloise Lions.

Baloise has blossomed even in the absence of Aerts; in the 2023/24 season Lars Van der Haar, Lucinda Brand, Joris Nieuwenhuis, Thibau Nys, and Pim Ronhaar all notching wins.

Why was Toon Aerts suspended?

During an out of competition doping test on January 19, Aerts' sample was found to contain metabolites of letrozole, a drug intended to treat breast cancer. Letrozole is a banned substance in cycling because it is a masking agent that can be used to block detection of steroid use.

What could have been a 4 year ban was reduced to 2 years; with the UCI ultimately accepting that the letrozole might have been ingested involuntarily, such as through contaminated food or dairy products; but nonetheless the athlete's responsibility.

Unlike, for example, Denise Betsema, Aerts lost two years of actual racing days in his prime, missing the entire 2022/23 season and almost all of the 2023/24 season. Betsema, in contrast, served a 6 month suspension that occured over Spring and Summer, allowing her to miss almost no competition days in cyclocross. 

Aerts defense

Aerts has denied taking banned substances and suggested that contaminated supplements or diet could be to blame, with some athletes and teams suggesting they would go so far as to travel with their own food and drink in certain geographic regions. Although strenuously denying the charges, Aerts ultimately failed in his defense and was banned for 2 years, retroactive to the date of the original positive test.

Fans may have noticed Aerts long hairstyle as he mounted his defense - he grew his hair out during this time; citing a study that showed testing on hair samples could differentiate between intentional doping vs. accidental ingestion, and hoped to preserve potential evidence by not cutting his hair. Ultimately, this was fruitless, and per his post on Instagram, he's back to a short hairstyle now: 

Aerts, 30 years of age, now gets a second chance to return to the top tier of the cyclocross ranks. If he returns to his prior form, he's likely to quickly become the team leader of Deschacht-Hens-Maes.

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