Iljo Keisse has apologised for what he has described as a 'stupid moment' after he feigned a sexual act behind a waitress during a coffee stop in the days before the Vuelta a San Juan in Argentina. The Belgian also denied touching the unnamed waitress, and claimed that the case had been closed, with a fine of 3000 Pesos reportedly having been paid.
Details of what happened emerged late on Monday after Keisse's Deceuninck-QuickStep teammate Julian Alaphilippe had won the stage to Lago Punta Negra.
Speaking to the local media, the waitress explained that she had spoken with the riders briefly before asking for a photo. Keisse put his hands behind his head while pushing his hips towards the woman at the moment the photograph was taken. She claimed he had grazed his body against her while posing for the photo.
After seeing the photograph, the woman decided to take the matter to a lawyer and then to the police. She expressed her anger at the situation and called on the organisers of the Vuelta a San Juan to sanction Keisse.
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After lying low on Tuesday morning, the 36-year-old Belgian spoke to the international media. He admitted he had made the sexual gesture but denied there was any kind of physical contact with the waitress.
He appeared determined to keep on racing despite calls from the provincial San Juan government, who fund and organise the Vuelta a San Juan, for the Deceuninck-QuickStep team to punish him.
"I would like to apologise, especially to this lady. I made a mistake, I realise that. It will not happen again," he said solemnly.
"I also want to apologise to everybody here, to the Argentinian people, but not only them - everybody who feels offended by what I did. To the race organisation, which has been in difficulties because of this. To my team... actually, I want to apologise to everybody, it was a really stupid thing to do. I wish I could turn back time but I can't. For me, I cannot do more in this moment than say I'm sorry and promise that things like this will never happen again.
"I made a mistake. I made a stupid movement with my hand. I did not hurt anybody - yes, the feelings - but I'm not a thief, I'm not a criminal. I'm human, I made a mistake. I came all the way to Argentina to do this Vuelta a San Juan. I really regret what I did but I'm here to race and I'd like to continue doing that."
Keisse revealed he was questioned by police on Monday but insisted the case was now closed. Local media reports stated that Keisse was fined 3000 Argentinean Pesos and has made the payment, although the rider made no reference to that.
"The lady put down a complaint with the police concerning me and my action. I also had to go to the police and give my version of the facts, and that was last Monday. They closed the case. This case was closed. I came back to the hotel. I went to the race. For me legally this was over. But then it began," Keisse said, confirming that no charges had been made against him.
Keisse also gave his version of what happened at the bar last Friday.
"We went there after training for a coffee, it was in the main street with all the terraces. It was Friday, one o'clock, with the whole team. We had coffee, we were there for about 45 minutes, we paid, we gave the waitress a tip, took our bikes to leave," he detailed.
"She asked if it was possible to take a picture. We took a picture like we take 1,500 every day. A normal picture. She asked for another picture. She bends a little bit forward to fit better in the picture and in a stupid moment, I make a stupid movement with my hand, which I really regret. You have all seen the result of that.
"I want to make 100 per cent clear that I did not touch her. I did not touch her. Not with my hands, not with my knees, I did not touch her. There was also in that moment no reaction from the lady. We were there in big company with people from the team; there were other people with us, around us. It was on the main street. There were a lot of people."
Keisse suggested the reporting of and the reaction to the case had gone too far.
"I'm not a disrespectful person. But okay, I made a mistake, I'm human. I'm feeling treated a little bit like a criminal at the moment and I can understand it's not easy days for this lady - also not for me or my wife or my children or my family at home, it's not easy. I think things are a little bit out of control now and I would like to continue and focus on the race."
Keisse is sharing a room with 19-yer-old neo-pro Remco Evenepoel and accepted that he should act as a role model.
"I know that I have a certain role in the team. I'm one of the oldest guys. I'm supposed to be a role model, I try to do that all the time. I'm always there for my team, but okay, like I said, I'm human, I made a mistake. Without thinking - bam, fraction of a second - the picture was there."
The race organisers issued a statement soon after Keisse had spoken to the media. They "requested the team to take the corresponding disciplinary action with the cyclist involved in the unfortunate event."
They called for an exemplary punishment as a sign of respect. However, Keisse is due to start the 12km time trial in Pocito later on Tuesday, with the Deceuninck-QuickStep team saying he will continue in the Vuelta a San Juan.