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.