Peter Sagan has been criticised for a photograph that shows him pinching the bottom of a podium girl after he was placed second in the Tour of Flanders yesterday.
As the winner Fabian Cancellara was given the customary kiss on the cheek by a blonde hostess, Sagan turned and 'goosed' her on the backside.
Social media immediately exploded, with thousands registering their unease at Sagan's act - and he was eventually forced to apologise.
Michael Hutchinson, 2012 Irish Time Trial National Champion, tweeted: “Shame that Peter Sagan has so much class on a bike and so very little off it.”
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.”
Cycling writer and broadcaster Ned Boulting told The Independent: “To say it’s OK for winners to celebrate in these ridiculous clinches with these poorly paid, barely dressed and no doubt freezing cold women – I think it looks bad and pretty repressive.
“It’s seen as completely normal to have podium girls but it doesn’t need to be. If they ceased to exist [in the sport] overnight, no one would miss them.”
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.”
Sagan's apology - via Twitter - was short and sullen. “Was not my intention to disrespect women today on the podium. Just a joke, sorry if someone was disturbed about it,” he wrote.
<p>After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.</p>