Patrick Lefevere and Deceuninck – Quick-Step have issued a “sincere apology” over their response to Iljo Keisse’s inappropriate behaviour.
Keisse was kicked off the Vuelta a San Juan by the organisers after he mimed a sex act while posing for a picture with a female fan.
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The Belgian was reported to the police by the fan and later apologised, but his team appeared to take a defiant stance.
Team boss Lefevere publicly admitted Keisse was at fault but went on to suggest the fan was motivated by money.
A statement from the Belgian squad, released late on Thursday night (January 31), said: “The team would like to make a sincere apology for the events of the past few days, firstly to the woman involved in this regrettable incident, and additionally to all women, fans and sponsors.
“We don’t condone this type of behaviour. Our team’s core values include mutual respect, and that was not upheld in this situation.
“Iljo also personally acknowledges his mistake and takes full responsibility for his actions.”
Keisse and Quick-Step team-mates were out on a training ride last Friday ahead of the Argentinian stage race when they were approached by the fan, who asked for a picture.
The fan said heard the riders laughing but didn’t realise why until she saw the picture – she then went to the police.
She added she was left feeling “disrespected and worthless” after the incident.
Speaking to Argentinian newspaper Telesol Diario, the fan said: “I thought it was an accident, but I later realised that it was not like that.
“I am very angry. They disrespected me – I was working.
“They can not come to another country and treat women as things, as something insignificant and worthless.”
Keisse spoke with police over the incident and later issued a public apology, saying “I would like to apologise, especially to this lady. This will not happen again.”
Race organisers then decided to remove Keisse from the race for bringing the event and cycling in general into disrepute.
This prompted a backlash from Quick-Step team boss Lefevere who said he considered pulling the whole team from the race in protest, despite Julian Alaphilippe holding the leader’s jersey having won two stages, and young Remco Evenpoel topping the young rider’s classification.
The team started stage four despite Lefevere’s threat, but they missed the post-race podium ceremony due to “tiredness and stress,” with the riders who skipped the occasion being fined by the UCI.
Lefevere, while admitting that Keisse’s actions were wrong, also suggested the fan was motivated by money.
In its apology statement, the team added: “We are aware that one of our main roles is to educate the riders and make sure they demonstrate respect for everyone.
“These events of these past few days are something which we can – and already have – learned from, and for that very reason we have decided to implement near-future specific conduct training protocols for all riders and staff to ensure our values and make sure this kind of thing won’t happen again.
“Again, we are very sorry to everyone affected by this regrettable incident.”