Deceuninck-QuickStep riders Yves Lampaert and Tim Declercq, along with former teammate Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, appeared in court on Tuesday, testifying that the actor and TV presenter Melvin Klooster assaulted Iljo Keisse in a nightclub brawl in 2017.
The trio were summoned at the request of Klooster's legal team, who wanted to examine 'ambiguities' in the witness statements they provided at the time, according to news agency Belga.
Klooster is accused of punching Keisse in the head, with the Belgian rider falling to the ground and into shards of glass, suffering injuries to his hand that kept him out of the 2017 Gent Six Day. The prosecution service is demanding a two-year prison sentence, but Klooster has denied he was the one who punched Keisse.
On Tuesday, Lampaert, Declercq, and Van Keirsbulck all testified that they saw Klooster assault Keisse.
"He attacked him from behind. I saw that," said Declercq, according to Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad. "And no, I hadn't drunk so much that I couldn't remember it exactly."
The incident took place on October 11, 2017, following an end-of-season QuickStep team-building day. Several riders went to Antwerp for the night, partying in the Roxy nightclub until the early hours.
“Once a year we got permission from the team to go out together," said Lampaert. "Around 5am I started to gather everyone to go to the team's hotel in Brussels. We would return by taxi."
Declercq continued to recount the episode: "When we came out, we were faced with a brawl. Two men were kicking and hitting a guy who was on the ground. I was shocked by so much violence.
"We thought Fernando Gaviria was on the ground, so we intervened by standing around the victim. Then it turned out it was someone else. Iljo Keisse helped the man up."
At that point, Keisse was knocked to the ground.
“I recognized Melvin," said Lampaert. "It all went very quickly, but I saw him waving his arm and then saw Iljo's knees give way. He hit his temple."
According to Nieuwsblad, the riders had already run in to Klooster earlier in the night after a conversation between Fernando Gaviria and Klooster's girlfriend, with Lampaert claiming the presenter's ego was bruised.
Lampaert reportedly dismissed suggestions from Klooster’s lawyer that the riders had conspired to frame his client.
“Of course we talked about those events afterwards – it was an eventful evening. But align our statements? We can only say what we saw.”
The long-running trial is now expected to conclude with a verdict in June. In addition to a possible prison sentence for Klooster, Keisse, who injured a tendon in his hand, is seeking €90,000 in compensation.
Keisse is currently racing at the Tour of Turkey, while Lampaert is in action on Wednesday at Brabantse Pijl.
“May I leave now”, Lampaert reportedly asked the judge when he was finished giving evidence. "I have to race on Wednesday."
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