Isn’t it time cycling moves on from the podium girls?

Why would anyone take women seriously as cyclists if they are still widely seen as fawning decorations around victorious male riders?

That moment. Photo © Eurosport

By now, the cycling world has almost forgotten about Peter Sagan’s antic of pinching podium girl Maja Leye’s bottom at the Tour of Flanders.

It is quite ironic that a sport that boasts so many Classic races is lacking classy acts.

The cycling’s community shocked reaction was a surprise in itself, because we are familiar with blatant sexism and seeing sexist imagery in cycling.

Nonetheless it was refreshing to see both male and female cycling supporters voicing their protests on the social media.

A cyclist on Twitter accurately described Sagan’s behaviour as “Benny Hill.” It is the sort of sleaziness you used to see on Carry On films in the 70s. It belongs to the last century, a remnant of the Operation Yewtree generation.

We love pink too. But... (Photo: gjacksonlovespink on Tumblr)
We love pink too. But… (Photo: gjacksonlovespink on Tumblr)

Sexism has been cycling’s dirty little secret, until Sagan unwittingly shared this “inside joke” at a major international event. However, young Sagan cannot be blamed entirely for a macho culture that has persisted for decades.

If you open any pro cycling magazines, it is quite easy to find casual, sexist imagery of women displayed in the advertisements.

They are often portrayed wearing little, or in skimpy undies and high heels while straddling expensive bikes suggestively.

It is pretty much the good old auto-erotica, where men affirm their masculinity through their ‘possessions’ – bike components and girls.

There are popular blogs like Drunken Cyclist and Tumblr pages applauding women as sex objects. I must admit I did laughed out loud at Drunken Cyclist gags in the past, but there is only so much self-flagellation a woman can tolerate.

(Photo: Churchofcycling on Tumblr)
Women are nothing more than the butt of cycling jokes on some websites. (Photo: Churchofcycling on Tumblr)

Women are still not being taken seriously in cycling. The media is more than happy to quote pro riders’ WAGs Twitter spats than real effort by women to partake in the sport.

There are more female riders competing at elite level than professional, without substantial funding.

Olympic champion Nicole Cooke was quoted as saying: “Every scandal on the men’s side has caused sponsors to leave on the Women’s side. And with such thin budgets, the losses have a greater relative impact on what survives.”

While most of it is done in the spirit of jest and light entertainment, sadly it also reveals the cycling sports’ attitude towards women.

A fan on CyclingNews.com forum said: “Yes, we should have podium girls, it is a tradition. If the female cyclists want podium men, sure (do they)?”

Does he mean having strange men smothering female riders with kisses in the public?

In many parts of the world that is called sexual harassment at the workplace.

Zarina Holmes is a photographer and editor. She writes essays on visual culture on Sojournposse. Also known as Superglue on @smellslikeglue

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