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Mathieu van der Poel spoke for the first time Tuesday after a high-profile incident that saw him arrested ahead of the UCI Road World Championships in Australia.
Van der Poel arrived back at Brussels airport, and was immediately met by the Belgian press.
The Dutch star apologized, but disputed accounts of what happened in the late-night confrontation involving two teenage girls who repeatedly knocked on his hotel room door on the eve of the elite men’s road race.
“I shouldn’t have done that and approached it differently. Unfortunately, that’s how it happened,” Van der Poel told Het Nieuwsblad.
“I should have informed the reception or someone else anyway. But it was getting late and I just wanted to sleep. I thought I could solve it myself, because in the end it turned out completely wrong. Unfortunately I can’t change it anymore,” Van der Poel said Tuesday.
Van der Poel’s comments Tuesday upon his arrival back in Europe following a bizarre incident in his hotel room over the weekend just hours before he was going to line up as one of the pre-race favorites for the road world title.
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The Dutch rider was arrested by Australian police, but still managed to start the elite men’s road race Sunday only to later abandon.
Van der Poel: ‘There are two versions of a story’
Two girls reportedly knocked on Van der Poel’s hotel room several times during the night, and the Dutchman allegedly confronted them and chased them into their room.
There it is alleged that Van der Poel grabbed one of the girls by both arms, squeezing them and pushing her into a wall and shouting at her. The girl reportedly suffered a minor carpet burn to her right elbow as well as redness to her left forearm.
Van der Poel then saw the second girl trying to exit the room and he allegedly pushed her against a wall with both of his hands. He then left the girls’ room and returned to his own.
“I held a girl by her arm. Certainly not with the intent to hurt anyone. Anyone who knows me knows that I have never hurt anyone,” he said. “There are a lot of stories about pushing, but that is absolutely not true. That’s not what happened. There are two versions of a story and when you are in Australia it is very difficult to deal with.”
“Of course I regret it. I’m wrong too, I admit that,” Van der Poel said. “I shouldn’t have done that and approached it differently. Unfortunately, that’s how it happened.”
On Monday, he pled guilty to charges while in Australia, and was fined $1,500. Officials returned his passport and he traveled home, but he is not allowed to re-enter Australia for the next three years.
Van der Poel: ‘I will try to put it behind me’
Several videos emerged since the weekend, one of which apparently shows van der Poel arguing with the mother of the girls in question.
VeloNews has not seen this footage but has seen another clip of Van der Poel chasing the girls after he comes out of his room in just his underwear. Like some publications, VeloNews has chosen not to publish the video as it could be used to identify the girls.
“I try to put it behind me and look ahead to what’s to come,” Van der Poel said. “Now I’m going home for a while, looking for peace. In any case, I am very happy to be back in the country. The team and the lawyer are now going to handle it further.”
On Monday, Van der Poel’s trade team Alpecin-Deceuninck released the following statement:
“We have taken note of the events that took place in Wollongong in the past 48 hours. Needless to mention everyone loses here, and we can only regret that. Initially, our focus was on providing legal assistance on site and on helping Mathieu van der Poel to return home quickly,” the statement read.
“Now that has happened, we want to get a clear picture of the course of events, through inspection of the complete file (we don’t have the court documents yet) and a conversation with Mathieu van der Poel and those involved at Team NL. Based on this, we will determine which further steps to take.
“We would like to emphasize that respect for others, inside and outside the peloton, is and always has been a core value of Alpecin-Deceuninck. That is why we want to follow up on this in an appropriate way. Only then will team Alpecin-Deceuninck and Mathieu van der Poel communicate about this again.”