Cycling’s Podium Girls

The ‘podium girls’ of world cycling have been in the news this month as organisers of the Flanders Diamond Tour came under fire after bikini-wearing women were photographed flanking the podium after the race, and rumoured to have been circulating in the VIP area during the race.
Whilst for many people it seems like a bit of harmless fun, there are others who believe that the employment of ‘podium girls’ is exploitative, sexist, and demeaning. In between helping our wonderful Carry on Cycling clients get back on their bikes after accidents and injury, we thought we’d take the time for a little debate about the need for podium girls.

Race hostesses

Podium girls, or ‘race hostesses’ as many of them prefer to be called, have long been a fixture of the Tour de France, where they are hired by the race’s main sponsor to entertain clients before and after the race. They are usually only seen by television viewers when presenting prizes – and kisses – to the stage winners. Whilst the Flanders Diamond Tour hostesses were seen in bikinis, usually hostess wear smart skirts, glamorous dresses, or fitted t-shirts with the sponsor’s logo.
The hostesses are also prohibited from interacting with the racers at any time – aside from the winner’s kiss on the cheek – although there are at least two former hostesses who have gone on to marry professional cyclists.

What’s the problem?

There are many fans of cycling who fail to see why there would be a problem with hiring race hostesses. Certainly, the sponsors enjoy having them there to entertain clients, and the race organisers appreciate the role that they play in the smooth running of podium presentations. However, neither of these tasks is gender-specific. As far back as July 2013, the BBC ran an article questioning the need for podium girls, after Slovakian rider Peter Sagan was photographed pinching the bottom of a hostess – coincidentally this also happened in Flanders.
The real problem comes when it has already been a battle for women’s cycling to “develop a sporting model that is attractive to sponsors, entertaining for fans and on a properly professional footing for the teams involved” (Suze Clemitson, writing for the Guardian Sports Network). The positioning of these podium girls shows women as nothing more than “beautiful ornaments to stand by successful men” (Laura Weslo, writing for Cycling News).
It is with this positioning of ‘pretty girl’ next to ‘tough man’ that people are becoming increasingly unhappy.

Flanders Diamond Tour

What makes the Flanders story all the more incredible is that it was a women’s race. So on the one hand we’re celebrating the athletic prowess, and sporting achievements of the talented Jolien d’Hoore, whilst on the other we are seeing women as bikini-clad toys.

The future

There are too many traditions in cycling for anyone to want to see podium hosts disappear completely, but it would be nice to see the position opened up to men as well as women, and to see them allowed to dress comfortably and professionally.