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  Maeve Moroney-Plouffe Blog: My Santos Tour Down Under podium presentation role  
  February 14th By Maeve Moroney-Plouffe  
  2017 Australian junior omnium champion Maeve Moroney-Plouffe.  
  Chances are, unless you have been living under a rock, you've most likely heard about the new debate dividing cycling fans worldwide. It's the question of podium girls – the iconic, beautiful ladies responsible for presenting race winners with their jersey, flowers, and of course, a kiss on the cheek.

Personally, the presence of podium girls at world class, international level racing is something that has never failed to baffle me. It's a tradition well past its time – a role that has somehow managed to slip through all pushes for gender equality and maintain its position in international racing.

Don't get me wrong – I understand that in no way do the podium girls feel disrespected or objectified by their roles. It's an honour to present awards to world class champions of the sport, and the women who do so are trained professionals responsible for the presentations running smoothly. But while the supporters of 'podium girls' seem to argue that they aren't sexualised or objectified, I must beg to differ. I've never seen a podium girl anything short from beautiful, nor dressed in much at all. I think that the absolute absurdity of the role, otherwise overlooked due to its social normality, has been brought to attention recently because of just how out-of-place it appears when podium girls are used for women's racing. It's awkward, ridiculous and certainly makes it apparent that for the men's racing, the girls are part of the prize.

From the perspective of a young female athlete, I believe that the problem with podium girls is the way the role represents the place of women in the sport. There's no denying that cycling is traditionally incredibly male dominated, even more so than other sports. From the grass roots through to the national and even elite level, participation amongst females – whether they are athletes, coaches, mechanics or commentators– is disproportionately low. In fact, watch the broadcast of any world tour stage and you'd be challenged to find a single woman in a race-related role. What message does this send to young girls? The idea that the only way they will become a valuable contribution to the sport is by looking pretty?

For this reason, it was with absolute delight that I accepted the news that the Santos Tour Down Under would be phasing out podium girls – a World Tour first, and a move that would certainly spark controversy across the world. It would have been far easier for the race organisers to stick to tradition and to avoid the inevitable conflict and disagreements, which would come with doing so. For this reason, I am incredibly grateful for those who stood up and made the change.

Even better, the organisers decided that they would be replacing podium girls with junior riders. This meant an exciting and unique opportunity for some of us not only to meet some of our biggest cycling idols, but also to catch a glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes of the UCI level events that we all aspire to ride in one day.

I learnt quickly that there is far more than what meets the eye behind-the-scenes of the TDU. Watching on TV or even in the crowd, presentations are so perfectly timed and flawlessly executed that it almost seems effortless. This couldn't be further from the truth: at this level, cycling isn't just a sport, it's a show; and just like any good play or performance, every second needs to be rehearsed to perfection. Every tiny little detail onstage had to be considered – which way will we walk on and off? How many steps do we take before turning? Do we tilt our hands to the left, or to the right while clapping? It seemed tedious at first, but by the end I had come to the realisation that getting these tiny details perfect was the key to a smooth, professional presentation. Seeing all the work that goes on backstage made me reflect on just how lucky our athletes are to have such a huge team behind them.

I know for myself and the other girls working as presenters, meeting the athletes was a highlight. These are the girls I aspire to be like one day: strong, fast, dedicated and perfectly composed both on and off the bike. Yet handing them their flowers and jerseys, I realised that these girls weren't superhuman – they were simply hard working, passionate, and resilient girls who most likely started all the way down at the junior ranks where I am now. They were proof that hard work and passion could get you to the top step of that podium…. I came away from the week inspired to say the least!

Personally, one of the most enjoyable moments in the week was witnessing the excitement of riders as they stepped out onto the stage in front of an enormous crowd on team presentation night. It was absolutely exhilarating to see so many fans turn up to support the girls, and I think the smiles on the riders' faces was telling of their gratitude for it. Throughout the week, big crowd turn outs happened on numerous occasions – even at the final stage, where not even 43-degree heat could deter a packed-out grandstand of dedicated fans anticipating a fast evening of racing. Nights like these I was proud to call myself South Australian, as I watched kids and adults alike cheering the girls on and giving them the credit they deserved.

I hope that over time, more World Tour races will follow the lead of the Santos Tour Down Under in switching podium girls for junior riders. Not only does it help develop the way in which women are viewed in the sport, but also is an invaluable experience for us younger riders to see just how such a big event is run and meet our cycling idols. Myself and the other juniors came away from the week inspired by the athletes we were fortunate enough to meet. I think it's about time we stop paying girls to be pretty prizes for the men, and start paying them to ride bikes – and I'm proud to say that it is South Australia leading the way in this movement.
 © 2016