It’s a job hundreds of women apply for each year, the privilege of kissing a sweaty, pungent cyclist still dripping through his lycra after a long day in the saddle.
Other perks include 12-hour days in all weather conditions, two-star accommodation with shared bathrooms and smiling at sponsors till your face aches.
You’re not allowed to interact with the cyclists, apart from planting one on their cheek for the cameras. But there is the prospect of having this lingering and rather awkward pose broadcast to a global audience and with it the promise of minor social media celebrity.
If you’re really lucky, you might get a pinch on the arse from an errant cyclist, as Maja Leye did from Peter Sagan in last year’s Tour of Flanders.
I love my cycling and I’m hugely enjoying the Giro d’Italia now underway. But there are three things that are a complete turn-off: Lance Armstrong, white lycra particularly when wet and the demeaning tradition of podium girls when pulling on the winner’s jersey should be reward enough.
Organisers of the various tours are quick to point out that podium girls are more than pretty faces. They speak multiple languages and study serious subjects like political science.
Sophie Moressee-Pichot of Tour de France sponsor Credit Lyonnais admits brain matter isn’t a factor when deciding which women mount the podium for the coveted Paris shot. That’s determined by “who will photograph the best on that day, and some girls might have a pimple or might look tired in the eyes.”
I doubt Sophie, pictured below on the left, had to jump through any aesthetic hoops when she was chosen for the French women’s epee team that went on to win gold at the 1996 Olympics.
Not that the podium girls are always above reproach, like the two who tried to sue their kissee Eladio Jimenez Sanchez for defamation of character when he was done for EPO in the 2009 Volta a Portugal.
“We don’t want to be known as stupid sexy girls who kiss dope fiends,” said one, while the other lamented: “I gave him a real smooch, not a fake one. I even pushed my breasts into his sweaty jersey. And now, it’s like my kisses are worthless. We are sexy party girls and we deserve better.” Yes, these are actual quotes.
At this moment, there are 180 schoolgirls held captive in Nigeria for seeking an education. Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai will forever bear the wounds of being shot in the head for daring to go to school. Last month, Afghani women defied Taliban threats to vote in their national election. Right now, thousands of women in Iran are posting pictures of themselves on Facebook minus their hijab, in defiance of the country’s strict Islamic dress code.
And we have a tradition in professional cycling which, in the words of Laura Weislo, deputy editor of cyclingnews.com, reduces women to “just beautiful ornaments to stand beside successful men”. Don’t get me started on motor sports.
As if to make amends, on 27 July as the Tour de France cyclists complete their ride to Paris, there will be a 90-kilometre women’s event, complete with podium boys to kiss the victors after their 13 laps of the Champs Elysees.
I guess they think that’s progress.