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Toon Aerts finishes fourth in return from doping suspension in Sint Niklaas

Toon Aerts finished in fourth place at the Exact Cross in Sint Niklaas on Saturday. It was his first race in two years after the expiration of his two-year doping suspension.

The 30-year-old thought he might make it onto the podium but Lars van der Haar (Baloise-Trek) out-sprinted him for third place 12 seconds behind race winner Michael Vanthourenhout and his Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal teammate Eli Iserbyt.

“The podium might have been the icing on the cake, but the cake will taste sweet. I am satisfied after today,” Aerts said.

He had to pass more than 40 riders after starting in the last row since he has no UCI points toward grid positions and he made quick work of getting to the front.

“If you see where I came from, it was indeed a very good start,” Aerts told Wielerflits. “It took a long time for it to open on the left side. I had counted on it opening there, just like other years. I thought for a moment: it’s different this year, but in the end, it happened and I was able to grab some places.

“Of course, that takes some getting used to after such a long period without cross, but I survived, so I am very happy with it.”

Aerts tested positive for the breast cancer drug letrozole in an out-of-competition control before the Cyclocross World Championships in 2022.

After his vigorous yet unsuccessful defence against the doping positive, which he attributed to contaminated food, the UCI suspended him for two years.

Aerts seems to have garnered ample support from his fans.

“In recent days, many people have sent me good luck. There were also those who wrote: ‘Enjoy it’. I enjoyed it, but it still hurt,” he said to Sporza.

“At certain moments I really had to go deep. But then I thought: “Come on, man, an hour of suffering, what is that compared to the two years in which you suffered?”

He also had plenty of support from the spectators on the course.

“I had the feeling that it was a championship. Those are moments when they stand on the sidelines with bells and whistles and cheer. And today I had a little bit of that feeling again.

“I am extremely grateful to those people [Aerts’ fan club] because they have guided me through the past two years. This is a day that I will not forget for the rest of my life.”

Now racing with Deschacht-Hens-Maes, Aerts heads to the X2O Trophy in Brussels – the second to last race of the season that concludes next week in Oostmalle. 

“Tomorrow is a completely different course, I think. I had a little trouble today with the slipping and sliding in the corners. Tomorrow there will be a lot of that, so it will be there again in the beginning. But in principle, the course suits me better than today’s.”

Before his doping positive, Aerts had just hit his stride, climbing onto the podium with Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel at the World Cup in Dendermonde and notching up his first European World Cup victory in Zonhoven.

 “That is also the reason why I have maintained my courage over the past two years. If it worked then, why wouldn’t it work in the future,” Aerts said to Sporza. 

“Today I was able to find my place at the top of cyclocross. I hope that this will only get better by participating in more and more competitions.”

Lucinda Brand (Baloise Trek) won the women’s event in Sint Niklaas ahead of Laura Verdonschot and Annemarie Worst.

SOURCE: CyclingNews   (go to source)
AUTHOR: laura@cyclingnews.com
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