Podium girls and the Tour de WTF?

podium girl
The New York Times ran an article about the taxing job of “hostess” at the much loved Tour de France. Apparently young women, mostly from Europe, work 12+ hour days, serving drinks and snacks, sharing crowded living quarters, and are continuously forced to smile, even when tired. (Sounds like the Tour directors and the truck drivers who pass through my neighborhood have something in common.)

So I get that many beauty pageants in the U.S. are associated with scholarships, and therefore, can be seen as a gateway, albeit a objectifying one, to educational opportunities. But this? Apparently the big winner gets…drum roll please…”The plum assignment is to award the jerseys to the top riders in Paris, where the stage is set on the Champs-Élysées. Pictures from that ceremony are seen worldwide.”

And? That’s it?

Sorry, but you’d have to give me way more incentive than that to put up with 12+ hour days and being told to smile even when I’m exhausted and in need of some alone time. The Tour director Christian Prudhomme freely admits that “the podium girls are accessories to the athletes.” The insult doesn’t stop there, however. The Times reports:

Prudhomme chose a woman, Claire Pedrono, a cycling champion of the Brittany region in France, for a prestigious job at this Tour: holding up the race blackboard that tells the cyclists time information, such as how far they are ahead of the pack behind them. She rides the course on the back of a motorcycle.

“I felt like she deserved that honor because of her accomplishments as a cyclist,” Prudhomme said. “But I have to be honest with you, it also doesn’t hurt that she has a nice smile.”

And that’s how Claire Pedrono, one of the best cyclists in the world, became Vanna White.

Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/rcs500/ Rebecca

    I am a big fan of professional cycling, and I have to say this is one of the “traditions” that makes me wish I wasn’t. It’s easy to forget how the sport has such an antiquated, boys club feel to it when you’re just watching, enjoying these incredible athletes. But like the cheerleaders in American football, it seems the marketers recognize their main audience is male.

    As for how many TDF competitors marry one of the hostesses, it disgusts me. It’s like they have a literal trophy wife!

    It’s equally frustrating how there is no equivalent of the TDF for women. Race director Prudhomme chalks this up to logistics, of all things. The women only get the “Grand Boucle” of 10 days, as compared to 21 days of the TDF.

  • http://feministing.com/members/deafbrowntrash/ deafbrowntrash

    and where are the male hosts (DUDES) to smile and serve female cyclists???? I dont know anything about Tour de France, I assume there are also females competing in it as well?

    • http://feministing.com/members/sarah801/ Sarah

      Unfortunately no, from what I’ve read, the guy who came up with the Tour de France didn’t allow women to compete because he thought they couldn’t handle the physical strain. So, this is just another example of women being relegated to pretty faces on the sideline.

      (Note: there does appear to be a separate race for women only)

    • http://feministing.com/members/rcs500/ Rebecca

      There aren’t any women competing in the actual Tour de France (the one Lance Armstrong rides in). The women get a pared-down version of the Tour that gets substantially less sposorship, coverage and acclaim, the “Grand Boucle” or “Le Tour Feminin.”

  • http://feministing.com/members/cassius/ Brüno

    Dont like it, dont partecipate in it? Some women want to be part of the tour the france, others dont. There are many good reasons to not be a hostess, or a cyclist at the tour the france, like the mentioned physical stress involved, when you could relax at home.

    • http://feministing.com/members/rcs500/ Rebecca

      Certainly women who don’t like the way this works can choose not to participate. But that doesn’t mean it’s ok for something so sexist to exist, in the sports world or otherwise. The “so just don’t participate” argument is insulting. Women should not have to choose between being treated respectfully and being an object, an accessory to the riders.

      It simply furthers some antiquated notion that the place for women is not riding in the Tour de France, but instead serving the riders drinks.

      Check out the details in the post about George Hincapie, a rider I greatly admire, practically harassing his then-podium-girl, now-wife for her contact information while she was at the Tour. And I’m sure that’s not the only case of something like that happening.

  • http://blueberry-shake.blogspot.com xeginy

    Damn, professional cycling sounds as bad as professional (US) football, what with the men doing the “hard part” and the women having pretty, pretty smiles. This is just what I got from this post, though; I don’t follow sports.

  • http://feministing.com/members/smiles/ Smiley

    You’ve forgotten one of the perks: meeting all those male journalists.

  • http://feministing.com/members/velodromedrone/ Barry

    As another cycling fan, I’ll echo Rebecca’s distaste of the boy’s club tradition of podium girls. The entire daily awards ceremony is a bit ridiculous (and I don’t know of any other cycling fans who actually leave the TV on long enough to watch it), but it is another opportunity for the race’s and teams’ sponsors to get their logos in front of the camera, and so I have no doubt they are here to stay.

    However, I would argue that the analogy to beauty pageants isn’t quite apt (although in some cases I believe some local pageant winners have appeared on the podium, though not in the bouquet and stuffed-animal presenting capacity of the “podium girls” described in the article). The women written about are more akin to the promotional models (“booth babes”) hired for car shows, video game conventions, bar/restaurant promotions, etc. This is a paying gig; they aren’t competing just to get a spot on the podium next to the male cyclists (although that might lead to more coverage/more work in the future).

    Regardless, I know many a cycling fan who would prefer to do away with the podium girl tradition. In fact, I don’t know any who would argue for their continued inclusion in the proceedings. The spectacle of the sport is more than enough to get people to tune in.

    As for the commentary on Claire Pedrono, I take slight issue with the hyperbole in the original post. To say “And that’s how Claire Pedrono, one of the best cyclists in the world, became Vanna White.” is a bit of a stretch.

    More accurately, it’s how a strong regional (non-professional, I am assuming) cyclist was given a job many of her peers (male or female) would love to have. As you can see from this picture (http://bit.ly/b7IqCh), she isn’t riding on the back of a Harley in a bikini, she is wearing the same uniform as the driver, preforming an invaluable (no matter how simple it looks) service to the racers. Not the case of say, a Venus Williams playing ball-girl during a men’s tournament.

    Prudhomme certainly does himself no favors in the article, and cycling (like the rest of the sporting world) obviously needs far more non-heterosexual male input at all levels of organization and play.

    As for professional female cycling, it definitely doesn’t get the coverage it deserves (at least stateside, where ANY non-Lance coverage is a bit of a rarity). However, if you were following Eurosport’s coverage of the Tour de France this year, you would have heard news updates from the Giro Donne, the largest women’s stage race. This year an American won the general classification for the first time, HTC-Columbia’s Mara Abbott.

  • http://feministing.com/members/bskelley89/ Bailey

    what’s most disappointing is the fact that the nytimes article is completely silent about this overt sexism. it lays out disgustingly objectifying quote after disgustingly objectifying quote and never once confronts the glaringly obvious–that the tour de france is terrifyingly lacking when it comes to respect and equality for women.

  • natashaharrington

    A great deal of sexism is certainly at play here,however I just worked two twelve hour shifts (at a restaurant) in as many days, and if a customer walks in 5 minutes before closing time and stays for two hours, I’m going to smile every time I speak to them. It’s my job. To imply people working with the public (in whatever capacity), shouldn’t have to smile while at work strikes me as a bit condescending and entitled.

  • http://feministing.com/members/rcs500/ Rebecca

    Here’s an interesting article from VeloNews:

    They interview one of the podium girls. It definitely sounds less derogatory than the NYT article, but it’s still an outdated tradition.

  • http://feministing.com/members/stivee/ Erin

    Am I missing something? I’ve worked twelve hour shifts and have been forced to smile. It’s called customer service. It sucks, but it’s paying my way through grad school.