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Sagan apologises for podium grope

Cyclist Peter Sagan apologises for groping a model on the winners' podium at the Tour of Flanders.

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Sometimes I wonder if the reason race winners so often get a bottle of Moet upon completion of their sisyphean effort (aside from the obvious phallic implications of giving everyone a spray) is to keep their hands occupied.

What happens if they don’t have something to fiddle with on the podium, you ask? If cyclist Peter Sagan’s behaviour this week is any indication, why, they reach for the nearest female bottom.

Second-placed Sagan thought it would be completely hilarious if, while Tour Of Flanders winner Fabian Cancellara was being congratulated by two ‘podium girls’, he went for the grope. Grinning like a schoolboy who has just composed a thrilling new verse of Diarrhea, Sagan aped for the gathered press as he pinched the blonde model’s bum. What larks!

Second-placed cyclist Peter Sagan thought it would be completely hilarious if, while Tour Of Flanders winner Fabian ...

Second-placed cyclist Peter Sagan thought it would be completely hilarious if, while Tour Of Flanders winner Fabian Cancellara was being congratulated by two ‘podium girls’, he went for the grope. Photo: Getty

Many of Sagan’s peers, as well as the greater cycling community, sprang to the defence of the model; British cyclist Michael Hutchinson gave Sagan a serve via Twitter, scolding the 23-year-old, “Shame that Peter Sagan has so much class on a bike and so very little off it”.


Eventually Sagan offered a trite apology, seemingly stunned that the world hadn’t appreciated his sparkling wit: “Was not my intention to disrespect women today on the podium. Just a joke, sorry if someone was disturbed about it.”

Whether or not Sagan is a dropkick isn’t really the point here. The greater issue is whether, in 2013, "podium girls" should still be a feature of the competitive cycling circuit. (And you can substitute in grid girls, cheerleaders, half-time dancers, or whatever other skimpily dressed babes are relevant to your men’s sport of choice.) My answer would be “no”, and I’m certainly not alone in thinking they are a relic of another less enlightened era.

Discussing the debacle in the Guardian’s SportsBlog, Matt Seaton argued as much, too: “The whole spectacle is unbecoming – not just tacky and embarrassing, but retrograde and demeaning. It's hard not to draw the conclusion that the institutionalised sexism of the ‘podium girls’ convention is of a piece with entrenched attitudes that relegate women's racing to ‘poor relation’ status. Cycling is a sport that loves to celebrate its traditions, but this is one it ought to leave by the roadside.”

When I was a young teen, my dream was to become a racecar driver when I grew up (I wasn’t particularly fussy about which sort, though the prestige and blood-curdling danger of F1 usually won out). Once it became clear that female drivers were not only exceedingly rare but, when they did get a chance to hit the track, marginalised to ridiculous levels, at the age of 21 I ditched the driving dream and became a grid girl at the V8s instead. (I’m sure I don’t need to illustrate how profoundly depressing a dream downgrade that was.)

My shaky justification for the decision was something along the lines of “I might get to meet The Enforcer” mixed with a bit of undergrad third-wave feminist “logic” about infiltrating bikini parades and a shake of “it’ll be good material”.

Standing next to the car on the grid, holding a “lollipop”, was fine; you got to talk to the crew and had a good view of whichever F-lister was singing the national anthem that race. My experience “at the track”, on the other hand, was hellish. My dream of having anything vaguely meaningful to do with motorsport were dashed as it became clear very quickly that we were there to serve one purpose only: as attractive pieces of meat.

We were instructed to move through the crowd in groups of two or three, allegedly so one of us could take photos of the other with motorsport fans who were dazzled by our abbreviated bright orange Lycra “V8 Supergirl” playsuits. We were groped, catcalled, kissed, breathed on, had beer spilled on us, were harassed and, just like the "podium girl" who had the misfortune to stand next to Sagan, had our bums pinched.

Though my time in that environment was mercifully brief, it was enlightening: how could female drivers hope to gain opportunities or respect, I thought, when the only other women in the racing universe were there to serve as sex objects?

There’s certainly a school of thought that sees sports like the V8s or NASCAR as a bit declasse; of course, runs the logic, meathead sports events attract caveman gender politics. But as Peter Sagan’s grabby hands have demonstrated this week, the same question can be asked of any sport that still employs women as any sort of “prize enhancer” or morale booster, even a “gentleman’s sport” like cycling.



  • Clem, from where I sit, you seem to be part of the problem, not part of the solution !!

    As a society, we have become too hamstrung by Political Correctness.
    As in this case, we dare not joke or mock for fear of upsetting someone - oh, and it doesn't matter what actions any of us take, someone, somewhere, will find a reason to take offence!

    Why should the girls who obviously enjoy the role of being seen in glamorous costumes have that privilege taken away from them because you and your like feel that all women should follow your so-called academic norm, are accept your view of society.

    Lighten up and relax, no harm was caused, and by the way, he actually was funny - hilarious even !!

    Non PC
    Date and time
    April 03, 2013, 8:00AM
    • ... and you're the reason why change is so slow.

      Date and time
      April 03, 2013, 8:52AM
    • Non PC, if you think being a grid girl/podium lady/etc is a "privilege", I encourage you to walk through a crowd of thousands of race fans wearing the same outfit.

      Clem Bastow
      Date and time
      April 03, 2013, 8:56AM
    • Privilege? It's a privilege to be a professional sports person, representing your team and your country. "Being seen in glamorous costumes" is not a privilege, and it's an insult being told it is. You seem to be proud of being "Non PC", when in fact, there's nothing enlightening or edgy about your views - you sound like an ignorant oaf who is happy for things to remain as they've always been because you're having a great time. Well there are those of us who are not having a great time, who are catcalled, pinched, sexualized and told to 'smile!' daily because, as is evident by this whole debacle, this is totally normal and acceptable and if we're offended or disgusted by it we should "lighten up and relax" because "no harm was done". There's more going on here than you having a laugh, and if you don't get what, try listening to people like Clem instead of defending your right to have a laugh at someone's (or some gender's) expense.

      Date and time
      April 03, 2013, 9:06AM
    • nice trolling...

      Date and time
      April 03, 2013, 9:16AM
    • I tend to agree with Non PC - by removing grid girls, podium girls, etc, all you've done is deny a bunch of models/aspiring models a job. The groping etc is the fault of a particular minority of patrons, not the sport itself. It would make a lot better sense to punish patrons who are out of line by ejecting them rather than punishing everyone else. You do have an alternative - which is to eliminate women from the circuit altogether. But what would that achieve exactly?

      And to answer Clem's dare, both I and my significant other have been to many other (non-sporting) events wearing less than the typical grid girl uniform. We rarely if ever have groping problems. Like I said above, the problem is a particular subset of people, not the concept itself.

      Date and time
      April 03, 2013, 9:17AM
    • 3 parties to blame here.=:

      1. the pincher!
      2. the girl (no one forced to take such a job).
      3. the organisers for creating such a role.

      The part i don't get... if women find these roles so offensive then why do women keep doing them? It's not like you become a 'grid-girl' no knowing what the job is???

      Date and time
      April 03, 2013, 9:18AM
    • I think it's a "privilege" in the sense that those positions are actually very competitive and hundreds of women apply to do them. It's not like it's a last resort job - it's actually a difficult job to get! I know girls who have had plastic surgery to get jobs like that - or "promotional models" as they're sometimes called.

      I think we'd all do well to take the advice of Ayaan Hirsi Ali in the interview with Ruby Hamad published today and focus on slightly more important issues facing women.

      Real World
      Date and time
      April 03, 2013, 9:26AM
    • Yes, they have the right to dress glamorously, however that doesn't mean you have to disrespect them. Other men, like myself, manage to go to the V8s and not grope any one.

      Date and time
      April 03, 2013, 9:33AM
    • I bet you're one of those types who'd grope a grid girl and tell her to 'relax' because it's just 'fun'.
      Also, I find your complaining about having to take into account other people's feelings pretty ridiculous. Oh no, you're being expected to realise there's people other than yourself - how tragic! Such oppression.

      Date and time
      April 03, 2013, 9:46AM

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