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PARIS (AFP) — Top WorldTour team Deceuninck-Quick-Step made an official apology “to all women” on Friday amid continued fallout after its rider Iljo Keisse feigned a sexual act behind a waitress, which was captured in a photo prior to the Vuelta a San Juan in Argentina.
Patrick Lefevere, director of the Belgium-based Quick-Step team, which racked up 90 wins in 2018, said sorry in a public statement. His team also said it would soon provide training to riders and staff on appropriate conduct to prevent future incidents.
The Belgian Keisse, 36, was thrown off the Vuelta a San Juan Wednesday and fined for public indecency after pantomiming the sexual gesture behind the woman with four of his teammates also in the picture. The incident happened after the waitress asked for a group photo with the athletes while they were out on a ride last Friday.
The 18-year-old victim swiftly filed complaints with the race organizers and the police.
As the fallout gathers pace, Lefevere, who initially brushed off the incident, made a public apology on Friday.
“Sincere apologies for everything that has happened these past few days, not only to the woman involved in this regrettable incident, but to all women, all our fans and our sponsors,” Lefevere said.
“As a team, we are aware that one of our principal roles should be to educate our riders and ensure they are respectful.”
His team’s statement also said that Quick-Step would soon implement “specific conduct training protocols for all riders and staff.”
Lefevere initially reacted with anger after race organizers threw Keisse off the race. He threatened to withdraw his entire team and the riders boycotted Wednesday’s awards ceremony.
Keisse apologized on his Twitter account on Tuesday and in a press briefing at the race.
“I want to apologize for the gesture during a photo taken this week,” he wrote. “I didn’t want to offend anybody and I deeply regret it.
“I know I’ve made a mistake but I’m not a disrespectful person. I’m really sorry.”
Going into Friday’s decisive mountain stage, Quick-Step’s leader Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe topped the overall standings in the race that ends Sunday.