Peter Sagan (Cannondale) issued a video apology yesterday after pinching a podium girls backside after the Tour of Flanders causing outrage. “It was wrong,” he said in English, reading from a script, wearing non-branded clothing. “And I wasn’t thinking.”

The 23-year-old has been the standout rider of the classics so far, finishing second at Flanders, Milan – San Remo and E3 Harelbeke and pulling a wheelie as he crossed the line to win Ghent-Wevelgem. But on Sunday his popularity plummeted after his crude gesture.

While on the podium waiting while winner Fabian Cancellara received kisses from the podium girls, Sagan, standing on the lower second place step, reached over and pinched Maja Leye.

He walked off the podium, spoke with Sporza TV about the race, visited the anti-doping doctor and travelled from Flanders to Slovakia. Most people missed the pinch and initially there was little reaction, but a photograph of the incident made its round on the internet and hit the headlines.

“It was completely inappropriate. You can’t do something like that,” Leye, 25, told Belgium’s Het Nieuwsblad. “Why didn’t I just turn around and slap him? There were one million people watching. I was surprised to feel his hand while I was kissing Cancellara.”

“I knew right away what happened and in a split second, I decided that I had to remain calm. If I had reacted, it would have been a lot worse. Afterwards I didn’t speak to him, but I stared at him to say, ‘You shouldn’t have done it.'”

Sagan’s misdemeanour. Courtesy Bryn Lennon / Getty

Social media
The photograph made its way around the world quickly thanks to social media like Twitter. Sagan used his @petosagan account to make his first apology.

“Was not my intention to disrespect women on the podium,” Sagan wrote. “Just a joke, sorry if someone was disturbed about it.” Read the tweet here

“What happened on Sunday was wrong,” Leye reacted, via @majaleye. “I hope this never happens again. I’m sure it won’t… Excuses accepted Read the tweet here

Sagan later used his Facebook account to upload a video apology. Watch the video here

“I sincerely apologise to Maja for what I did on the podium after the race,” he said. “It was wrong of me and I wasn’t thinking when I was up on the podium. I never should’ve done it. I’m so sorry and I apologise to Maja and anyone else I have offended. … I promise to act more respectfully in the future.”

Racing ahead, Brabantse Pijl
Sagan is now taking a planned break and will miss Paris-Roubaix. He returns next Wednesday to race Brabantse Pijl in Leuven, Belgium. Afterwards, the Amstel Gold Race and possibly Flèche Wallonne are on his schedule.

Italy’s Cannondale team decided not to take action, saying Sagan apologised and understood his mistake. “I explained to him that he’s a public figure and has to carry himself correctly,” team manager, Roberto Amadio told Italian newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport. “We won’t fine him, but we gave him an earful. He’s 23, he can make mistakes.”

Sagan will be able to apologise directly to Leye in Brabantse Pijl. As part of the Flanders Classics, the organiser uses the same podium girls. If he wins, it will surely make for an awkward podium presentation.

  • Michael

    It’s fine for 2 scantily clad strangers to kiss and hug Cancellara, but sexual assault when Sagan pinches a buttock of one of the 2 in obvious jest. Unbelievable. Would it have also been wrong if Cancellara had pinched her bottom while getting kissed? The provocatively dressed podium girls are nothing more than “eye-candy” for the public and winners and I honestly don’t understand the outrage when a cyclist for once plays along to the overt sexism of this show staged by the race organisers. To avoid this situation in future, have the mayor of the city present the prize with a dignified handshake. No, just doesn’t seem right does it? We like the pretty girls. To loosely quote Dave Chapelle: “if you don’t want to be treated like a tart, get out of the tart uniform”.

  • tildaw

    Despite of the big issue about it, this photo is the best podium photo in the whole cycling history whatsoever..:) A presence of podium girls should be banned. Cancellara looked so fed up with the long kiss of the blond girl, however Sagan enjoyed his moment on the podium. All the best for my favourite Sagan!!

  • Ross Clark

    Agree with ” JD April 02 14:56″ and “adam-April 02 15:29” wholeheartedly here

    And, look at his face, he’s well chuffed, ha ha ha! Give him a break, he’s only human.

  • TG

    So, why are podium girls there?
    Do the women get podium boys dressed in revealing clothing?

  • BG

    Not sure how Sagan can be the standout rider of the Classics so far when Cancellara won Flanders and Harelbeke & came third at San Remo. His arrogance obviously got the better of him on the podium and makes him look what he is, a complete idiot.

  • Ken Evans

    Shock horror pro cyclist likes girls, hold the front page ! Because no girl in a mini skirt has ever had her bottom pinched before ! Oh the scandal, oh the shame ! (You milk it sister, for all its worth, $$$$$.)

  • John Westwell

    Sagan has already demonstrated by his previous ‘celebrations’ that he is at best an immature idiot and at worst an unthinking neanderthal. Whilst I agree that podium girls are an unnecessary distraction, what Sagan did amounts to a sexual assault. A few hours earlier, the women’s Tour of Flanders was run off on part of the same course, to very little coverage. Given the campaign in Cycling Weekly over the last few weeks to try to raise the profile of women’s cycling, what sort of message does this type of behaviour send?

  • Andrew Rutherford

    It says something worrying about how cycing organisers think when its even “needed” to have poduim girls at all. Not sure i saw any at the olympics, fa cup, darts etc.
    Maybe i am missing something but i am sure they dont even have them at school prizgivings but it seems to be normal to have them for cycling?
    So much so that there is even a name for them “podium girls” – or arent they what they have in strip clubs and lapdancing clubs?

  • adam

    I have to say, whilst his actions may be in bad taste, the very fact that they feel the need to put what is effectively only eye candy on the presentation stage and then moan about Sagan ‘objectifying’ women seems a little like the pot calling the kettle black.

  • JD

    Interesting that Sagan gets hauled up for this kind of immature sexism and yet nobody batted an eyelid when it came to Cipo’s antics a decade ago

    The difference isn’t moral, it’s technological. Cipo rode in the era just before social media dominated all discourse. Sagan’s era is more complex but no less hypocritical in its own way.

  • david chapman

    ask the podium girl if she liked it, well done sagan many more backside pinching to come lol,

  • Sam

    Thanks for showing your maturity, Nigel. As for Sagan, a tremendous talent on the bike, an attention-grabbing idiot off the bike

  • Nigel Rue

    I think Peter Sagan showed admirable restraint. If I`d been in his position I`d have gone to my knees & given her bum a little bite.

  • sue finch

    why do you need these girlies on the podium anyway..they are only there for the limelight,why not let the local dignitaries give out the jerseys,they do it formula 1,why not at cycling events

  • Terry Whenman

    The worst thing about Sagangate was not what he did but the fact that it detracted from a majorly impressive ride by the man on the top step of the podium, Fabian Cancellara. I watched the race and the presentation on Eurosport Player and until the evening, via Twitter, I, and most people watching, were unaware that the incident with the young lady had happened and it was published via an eagle-eyed photographer who must be laughing all the way to the bank.