Details of Philippe Gilbert's and Loïc Vliegen’s altercation with two men last Friday continue to surface in the Belgian press. When the news initially came out, it was reported by the team that two ‘intoxicated’ drivers had been aggressive towards the riders, and that in the resulting altercation Gilbert broke his finger.
The two drivers have defended themselves and stated that they were not drunk and that it had been the riders who were the aggressors. They also claimed that Gilbert had used a spray against them during the incident. On Tuesday, Het Nieuwsblad reported that Gilbert could risk imprisonment for using the spray, which is deemed a weapon in Belgium and therefore illegal. If he is found guilty, Gilbert could face a prison sentence of between one month to five years and a fine of anywhere between 100 and 25,000 Euros. According to the paper, the spray was bought in France where it is not banned.
"In France, that product is sold freely. I have it with me because I have already dealt with aggression during training,” said Gilbert said according to Het Nieuwsblad. “A cyclist is absolutely defenceless against others. Unfortunately, I have often seen scenes of violence.”
All parties have now spoken to the police, and Gilbert offered his side of the story. "Previously, we could not talk because the procedure had to be respected. As long as we had not spoken to the police, we could not respond to the various reports that have appeared in the press,” Gilbert told Het Nieuwsblad.
"Our version is as follow, there was three of us riding on the national road from Spa to Theux. The third was a cycling tourist who had joined us, as so often happens in training. That man was sitting with us on our wheel. We were riding, therefore, not with three, but with two side by side. A car forced us in and gave us very little space. When we, verbally and with hand gestures, expressed our displeasure about the dangerous overtaking, the driver slowed, and he was waiting for us.”
Vliegen continued the story by telling reporters that he was forced to hold onto the car to avoid crashing during the incident. "The man jerked the wheel and turned to the left. I had to cling to the vehicle in order not to fall,” he said.
“The driver then grabbed my right arm by the sleeve and accelerated, in which he took me in the left lane. A head-on collision with an oncoming car was only just avoided. I experienced the fright of my life. Eventually, I could pry myself away, and the car took off. [It was a] hit and run.”
With the car speeding away, Gilbert and Vliegen continued into Theux where they say that they came across the drivers again. "We went to redress things with the driver, who hurled us all kinds of insults and tried to play down what had happened. There was a scuffle. For me, there are major consequences, because I broke my finger in three places. We have several witnesses."
Gilbert underwent surgery to fix his finger but has been forced to miss Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday, a blow ahead of the forthcoming Ardennes Classics.