Peter Sagan, the cyclist whose inappropriate actions have sparked widespread debate about sexism in cycling, has apologised for his actions in a video message.
The Slovakian, who until last week was best known for his wacky victory celebrations, was unable to keep his hands to himself when on the podium at the Ronde of Flanders classic.
As podium girl Maja Leye leaned in to kiss the cheek of Swiss winner Fabian Cancellara, Sagan pinched her bottom.
Sagan, who came second in the race, has now apologised for the incident, saying in a video message released today: "I am so sorry and I hope that Maja and anyone else I have offended knows how sorry I am. I promise to act more respectfully in the future."
The 23-year-old rising star had already tried to make amends on Twitter last week when he wrote: "Was not my intention to disrespect women today on the podium. Just a joke, sorry if someone was disturbed about it."
Photographs of the incident led to social media outrage.
Michael Hutchinson, top British cyclist and 2012 Irish Time Trials National Champion, tweeted: “Shame that Peter Sagan has so much class on a bike and so very little off it.”
UCI World cycling champion and Irish Paracycling Team member Colin Lynch wrote: “Despite the symbolism of being kissed by scantily-clad women & then spraying champagne all over the place, groping them before is [off] limits.
“The podium move by Sagan was like school on Sunday. No class.”
Other cycling enthusiasts pointed a feminist finger.
Jane Aubrey, editor of Australian cyclingnews.com, tweeted: “Anyone excusing Sagan's behaviour due to his age, needs to think again. In the workplace, it's called harassment.”
Adam Tranter, editor of website Cyclosport, retweeted the picture and wrote: “The moment you realise Sagan is actually just a bit of an idiot.”
And Dave Dee, cyclist from the Wirral, said: “Now a chance for enlightened tour organisers to drop podium girls.”
Podium girls are a tradition in cycling races, although in recent years they have sometimes been replaced by podium men – or podium people, to give them their non-sexist, all-for-equality name.
Competition to be picked as a hostess can be fierce. The Tour de France organisers have to whittle down a pool of 500 applicants to 50. The job description includes presenting stage awards, serving as ambassadors for various race sponsors, dressing in the appropriate outfit for presentations – polka dot for mountain climbs; yellow for overall title contenders - as well as touching tastefully-painted lips to sweaty cyclists’ cheeks.
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