SAN JUAN, Argentina (VN) — Belgian rider Iljo Keisse apologized for pantomiming a sex act during a photograph with a female employee of a cafe in Argentina. The incident occurred after Keisse’s Deceuninck-Quick Step team had stopped for coffee on a training ride Friday.
The photo surfaced overnight and showed Keisse making a lewd gesture as he stood behind the woman.
The woman involved complained to the police, who contacted the team. Keisse said that after a visit to the police Monday, the case was dropped.
“I would like to apologize, especially to this lady,” Keisse said. “I made a mistake, I realize that. This will not happen again.”
Keisse and his team are racing in Argentina at the Vuelta a San Juan, which already completed two of its seven stages. Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) leads the overall and Keisse’s teammate Julian Alaphilippe won stage 2.
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“I want to apologize to everyone here, the Argentinean people, everyone feels offended,” he said. “The race organizer has been in difficulty because of this. And to my team. It was a really stupid thing to do. I wish I could turn back time, but I can’t.”
The woman told the local newspaper Telesol Diario that she felt disrespected by the gesture. “I thought it was an accident, but I later realized that it was not like that.
“I was working. They cannot come to another country and treat women as things, insignificant and worthless.”
The Argentinian newspaper reported that Keisse pushed his genitals against the woman as well. He contended that he did not touch her this way or with his hands.
The Flemish lead-out man and Giro d’Italia stage winner is the oldest on the team in San Juan, the province in the west on the border with Chile. The 36-year-old’s teammates include 22-year-old Alvaro Hodeg and 19-year-old Remco Evenepoel.
“I know I have a certain role in the team, I’m one of those guys,” Keisse said.
“I’m supposed to be a role model, I try to do that all the time, I’m always there for my team. But like I said, I made a mistake.”
The Belgian team will keep Keisse in the race, which features a 12-kilometer time trial on Tuesday. According to Belgian newspaper Het Niuwsblad, the team will not further punish the Belgian rider.
“Iljo explained himself and apologized deeply,” a team spokesperson told the newspaper. “The pose was meant as a joke, but now he feels very bad about it. After his apologies, the case is without consequences.”
Keisse said that he has yet to apologize directly to the woman.
“I made a mistake, a stupid movement with my hands, I didn’t hurt anyone — yes her feelings — but I’m not a thief or a criminal, I’m human and made a mistake,” continued Keisse.
“I came all the way here to Argentina to race in San Juan, I am here and I would really like to continue the race.”