Opinion: Using podium boys for women’s races isn’t cute, it’s patronizing

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A three-day beard, at least 1.85m tall and broad shoulders – those are the requirements for the ideal “Ronde Mister” according to Amstel’s latest advert, which is hoping to find two suitable men to serve as podium boys at this weekend’s women’s edition of the Amstel Gold Race.

This is the first time in 14 years that women get to tackle this great Dutch classic, known for its wind-swept roads and many steep, short climbs, like the iconic Cauberg.

The race, last won by Nicole Cooke in 2003, will serve as the sixth round of the UCI Women’s WorldTour and is the start of the Ardennes Week, which also includes La Flèche Wallonne Femmes and a women’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

But leading up to the weekend, the topic du jour is not which rider will win Amstel Gold, but rather who will be kissing her on the cheek on the podium.

With already more than 15,000 submissions, the search for two “Ronde Misters” has admittedly been a successful publicity stunt, but it’s also incredibly aggravating and thoroughly disappointing.

We have said it before, and while we may sound like a broken record, it needs to be said again: The use of podium men is no better than using podium girls. The objectification is the same.

For years the predominant image of women in cycling has been that of the dolled-up ‘hostesses’ at events like the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia instead of women racing bike themselves – an image we continue to see day in, day out and which is met with much criticism every year.

Fortunately, some events like the Santos Tour Down Under have replaced their podium girls with the stars of tomorrow – junior athletes who get to present their idols with flowers and jerseys.

Lauded as a sign of modernization of the sport, many fans have welcomed this change. However, some organizations’ approach to modernization has been to simply add podium boys for the women’s events.

What at first glance may seem ‘cute’, is in effect no different than using podium girls. We are still using human beings as pretty objects. Having male podium hosts at women’s events is far from a gesture of inclusivity. It’s patronizing and it’s furthering heteronormativity.

There are many positive talking points that could have been promoted around a women’s Amstel Gold Race like the fact that now, for the first time ever, the women’s peloton gets to race a full Ardennes week. Three classic races – Amstel Gold, La Flèche Wallonne Femmes and Liège-Bastogne-Liège – steeped in history and prestige, with hard courses and fierce battles.

The level of women’s cycling is higher than it’s ever been, as evidenced by the hard-fought and exciting performances weekend after weekend. It’s action-packed, unpredictable and highly entertaining – exactly as sports should be. This cheap publicity ploy only undersells these great athletes and professionalism with which women’s cycling operates today.

“The disparity between what is on offer for men and what is on offer for women at the highest level of cycling is a commentary on the inequality endemic in our society,” Aviva Women’s Tour director Guy Elliott once told us. “There are moral and social reasons for promoting equality. The objective of the Women’s Tour is to send a strong message that women do not have to be second best.”

It’s disappointing that as a rare female race director, Leontien Zijlaard – van Moorsel — the celebrated multi-Olympic and World Champion cyclist — has chosen to publicize her event like this. With the women’s Amstel Gold Race she could have made a real stand.

If you want to promote and grow the popularity of women’s cycling, give us live streaming, coverage, and knowledgeable commentators, not a couple of handsome podium fellas.

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