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'Nude' Or Not, Women's Cycling Team Uniform Makes Waves

If one goal of the uniforms for a women's cycling team from Colombia is to attract attention, they're a smashing success.

Some observers are calling the outfits — which in photos seem to feature a swatch of flesh-tone-colored fabric in their lower region — "rude," "wrong" and a "disaster." But others are defending the uniform and the cyclists who wear it, saying the criticism is entirely sensationalized.

The uniforms made quite a splash in Italy, where the team competed in the elite women's Giro della Toscana this weekend. The race was won by American Shelley Olds — but people on social media were thrown into a tizzy by the cycling kit of team Bogota Humana. (Contrary to some reports, the team isn't the national squad. Its sponsors include the city of Bogota, and it's endorsed by Colombia's sports ministry).

A photo tweeted by Hilary Evans was retweeted more than 11,000 times — and Twitter deemed the image risque enough to warrant a warning that "The following media may contain sensitive material."

"I'm no fashion expert but even I know that the Colombia women's cycling team kit seen here is a genuine disaster," Evans wrote.

The uniform also drew the attention of UCI President Brian Cookson.

"To the many who have raised the issue of a certain women's team kit, we are on the case," he tweeted. "It is unacceptable by any standard of decency."

The BBC's story about the uniform, and Cookson's response, included a version of the post-race photo to which a black bar had been added.

The controversy led Colombian cycling program Ultimo Kilometro to post a photo of a pro men's team (Footon-Servetto-Fuji) in a similar "nude" uniform, with the caption "it's cycling, not fashion."

On Monday, information emerged that answers two key questions: Who would design a cycling suit with a nude-colored section, and is the uniform really as inappropriate in person as it looks in photos?

According to the Chasing Wheels website, the section that has made some viewers do a double-take is not a "nude" color, it's gold — and "Lycra done as gold effect never photographs well. It's unfortunate, but there you are."

As for the design, it seems to have come from one of the team's members, cyclist Angie Tatiana Rojas Suarez, according to both the Spanish-language and El Tiempo.

Rojas is an accomplished 22-year-old athlete who has won national titles in both cycling and skating, according to her online bio. She also works as a sports journalist and as the chief of communications at the vitamin company that sponsors the cycling team.

Most of Rojas' recent messages on Twitter and Facebook skirt the uniform issue, choosing instead to celebrate her team's work in Italy.

But she did retweet a comment that said, "The uniform may not be the most beautiful and we may not like it, but there's no need for certain comments."

Rojas also retweeted a message of apology from an Italian cycling website that had helped whip up controversy over the photograph. In an apology published Sunday, the website Tuttobici said it had been vulgar and disrespectful to the Colombian cyclists.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.