FLORENCE, Italy – With the shadow of the Lance Armstrong doping affair still hanging over cycling, British challenger Brian Cookson called Friday’s UCI presidential election a “crossroads moment” for the sport.
The president of British Cycling also said that the “shennanigans” that have marred the sport under rival Pat McQuaid, who is seeking a third four-year term, no longer are acceptable.
“Friday is a crossroads moment,” Cookson said Wednesday. “I want to make our sport one where people can admire their heroes without doubt.”
The vote, held during the road world championships, will be a secret ballot of the 42 voters. A simple majority of 22 votes is required for victory.
The voting congress will be held in Florence’s historic Palazzo Vecchio.
It remains unclear if McQuaid has a valid nomination. Federations in his home country, Ireland, and Switzerland, where he lives, withdrew support.
McQuaid claims valid nominations from Morocco and Thailand – although those could be dependent on UCI’s congress approving changes to the body’s statutes before the presidential vote.
“Even if Mr. McQuaid falls foul of the nomination process, even if congress say that he doesn’t have a valid nomination, I will still ask for a positive vote in favor of me by the congress,” Cookson said. “I will not take on the job by default. I don’t want a coronation, I want a proper election, and I want to take on the role of UCI president with the full support of the congress.”
McQuaid, however, maintains that he has support from “all five continents” in the congress, and he is relying on his years-old relationships with national federations to make his campaign legitimate.
“I’m not a magician myself; I’m trying to stick to the rules,” Cookson said. “I’m trying to run a campaign with integrity and honesty. I think the UCI has seen too much of these shennanigans – I hope that’s a word that translates easily – these kind of machinations in the future. I would want to run a UCI that isn’t marked by that type of thing.”
Armstrong’s revelation in January that he doped for most of his stellar career, in which he won the Tour de France a record seven times, further rocked a sport already in desperate need of credibility.
The UCI has been accused of covering up Armstrong’s doping.
Still, there are worries that the election results could end up in the courts afterward, if questions over McQuaid’s nomination persist.
“I think we’ve all seen far too many legal disputes and issues in our sport,” Cookson said. “I would hope that after Friday we can put all of that to bed and move forward – whoever wins.”
And what about former UCI president and current honorary president Hein Verbruggen, who also has been tied to the sport’s shadowy past?
“I want to make it absolutely clear that if I’m elected the UCI will be under new management,” Cookson said. “I don’t see any involvement of Mr. Verbruggen going forward. In fact, Mr. Verbruggen has publicly stated that he wants no more involvement with the UCI and administration of sport generally, and that’s fine with me.”
One of the chief points of Cookson’s campaign is to establish an independent anti-doping body that is separate from the UCI.
“The first thing I will do Monday morning is put in a call to WADA to get our commission under way,” he said of the World Anti-Doping Agency. “Deeds speak louder than words. Let’s get that independent anti-doping agency established and then people can start to believe and put trust in our sport again.”
Cookson also wants to set up a so-called “truth and reconciliation” commission to encourage riders, team officials and others with knowledge of cycling’s doping secrets to come forward. And he emphasized the commission would not target only riders.
“The kind of doping that we’ve seen in recent generations has not been taking a pill behind the changing rooms or anything like that,” he said. “This is organized, structured doping with medical procedures, so a lot of people have been involved in these conspiracies. I want to spread the net to include those people and find out all of the truth and not just part of the truth. We need to move forward from that and learn some lessons.”
Cookson warned that many of the team managers currently in prominent positions within the sport who have been tied to or admitted doping during their careers as athletes no longer could have a place in the sport.
“One of the things we need to do is establish a test of what is a fit and proper person to be involved in the running of a team, whether that’s a manager, director sportif, doctor, carer and so on,” he said. “This is not just about riders; it’s about the entourage as well.”