Why a supposedly vulgar kit reveals more about the public than it does about the riders, says Klaus Bellon
Last January, Angie Tatiana Rojas volunteered to design the kit for her cycling team, Colombia’s IDRD-Bogota Humana-San Mateo-Solgar. The 22-year old wanted to help out her team. As she now puts it, “I always aim to be as helpful as possible both on and off the bike.”
Rojas came up with several designs for the kit, trying to maximize the visibility it would have within the peloton. In her eyes the kit’s primary purpose was to, “highlight the team’s sponsors”, and she chose the colours accordingly. Red and yellow for Bogota’s cycling league, and golden ochre, the primary color used by Solgar, a vitamin manufacturer, in their packaging.
The design was well received by Angie Tatiana’s teammates, who approved it, along with Bogota’s cycling league. In the following months, the women raced in Colombia, Argentina, El Salvador, Mexico, Venezuela and Italy. No comments about the team’s kit were ever made during that time. That all changed last week. Soon the story was splashed all over media outlets including the Daily Mail, Metro and even Buzzfeed.
On Sunday, Julio Cesar Sandoval, the team’s press officer, began to see mention’s of the kit through social media. The story grew quickly, as media outlets referred to the kit as being vulgar, a publicity stunt and an affront to the sport. Former British Olympic champion Nicole Cooke, who assumed that the women in the team had been forced to wear the kit tweeted, “This has turned the sport into a joke. Girls stand up for yourselves – say no.”
The team issued a press release on Sunday afternoon, explaining that the “uniform was not designed with any malice whatsoever, and there was no intent in trying to objectify our athletes.” By that point, UCI president Brian Cookson had ordered an investigation into the matter.
I spoke with a stern, yet upbeat Rojas upon her arrival to Bogota. According to her, the team’s morale is high despite the media’s scrutiny and negative comments. “We are doing well, and we are at peace, because know that as a team, everything we’ve done has always been done with the best intentions.”
Having lived through an unusual by interesting few days, Rojas says this all highlights the state of women’s cycling as a whole. “I think it’s sad that it takes something like this for cycling, and women’s cycling in particular, to get this much press.”
The team’s press officer agrees, but is quick to point out that maybe something good can come of this. “I hope that people begin to see these women as what they are, proud athletes who want to compete at a high level.”
Angie Tatiana Rojas is also looking ahead, and merely sees this as a small platform that could perhaps help in what she sees as the ultimate goal for women’s cycling in Colombia. “We are firm believers in the transformative effect that sport can bring about, and that’s our daily aim when we train, to make our country better through our actions.”
Hearing Rojas speak, it becomes clear that the amount of attention and press that this story garnered gives away more about the press and the public, than it does about these women. After all, they want nothing more than to get back to training for the remaining races of the year, and are already looking ahead to next season, UCI investigation or not.