Former UCI president Pat McQuaid has said “it’s time for a change at the UCI” and has given his backing to David Lappartient’s bid to unseat Brian Cookson, his successor in the role.
Cookson beat McQuaid in 2013’s election for the UCI presidency, bringing the Irishman’s eight-year tenure to a close following an acrimonious campaign which took place less than a year after the United States Anti-Doping Agency published its report into the US Postal doping scandal.
In his manifesto, Cookson had pledged to modernise the sport, but in an extensive interview with The Outer Line, McQuaid said he does not believe the Briton is capable of taking it forward.
Asked how the UCI could help relieve often competing goals within the sport, such as between race organisers, teams, riders and the governing body itself, he said: “In short, by showing stronger leadership.
“The UCI needs to gain a greater respect from its stakeholders – as being the one neutral body which is mandated to look after the interests of all stakeholders in the sport.
“It is my personal opinion that Mr. Cookson doesn’t have the ability to move the sport forward over the next four years,” McQuaid maintained.
“He bills himself as a ‘consensus’ builder, but unfortunately what this often means is that he just doesn’t want to take a decision.
“He has abdicated too many of his responsibilities to his Director General, Martin Gibbs, who takes care of the political and administrative decisions. And Gibbs doesn’t have the background or experience to do this; I know this, because he worked for me for two years.
“You have to keep in mind that the role of the UCI President and the UCI Director General are completely different,” he continued.
“The President and his Management Board determine Board strategies, while the Director General sees to it that the staff carries out those mandates.
“The President takes day to day decisions on many important issues, which don’t need Board approval, and looks after the political aspects of the operation. It seems to me that this is not happening currently, and that Gibbs is making most of decisions – both political and administrative.”
Lappartient, a former president of the French national cycling federation and currently president of the European Cycling Confederation (UEC) and a vice-president of the UCI, is the sole challenger to Cookson in September’s election at the World Cycling Congress in Bergen, Norway.
“Mr. Lappartient, I believe, has a greater appreciation and respect for the history and the legacy of the sport,” said McQuaid.
“He has been successful with the French riders’ association, and I think he has a better understanding of the big picture. In my view, it is time for a change at the UCI.
Other issues that McQuaid spoke about during the wide-ranging interview included professional cycling’s economic model, whether progress has been made to redress the gender imbalance between the men’s and women’s side of the sport, the role of race organisers and the impact of calendar reforms.
He also touched on the independent review into claims of discrimination and bullying at British Cycling, with many of the allegations relating to the period when Cookson was president of the governing body.
“I strongly believe that the UCI must take a more proactive role with all national federations to stamp out any signs of sexism, harassment or abuse, as soon as they come to the surface” said McQuaid.
“This should be done by installing checks and balances throughout each national Federation, and its various constituent parts.
“The recent UK Cycling enquiry showed clearly that the President and his board were well adrift of what was going on in the sport, in particular at the elite level.”
Reflecting on his own time in the top job at the global governing body, he said: “I was UCI President during a very difficult time for our sport.
“Of course with the privilege of hindsight I can say I might have done some things differently but I would say this – any decision I took was taken in what I perceived to be the best interests of the sport at that time.”
He gave the example of the decision to let Lance Armstrong race the Tour Down Under when he emerged from retirement in 2009, despite the American being 10 days short of the requirement to have been in the biological passport programme for six months before competing.
“I felt like his participation would be great for the sport in Australia, as he had never raced there before,” McQuaid said.
“And in retrospect, I think I was right – the Tour Down Under had never seen anything like it. There was no other underlying reason for my decision, but for years people have put all sorts of spins on that decision, mostly just to stick a knife in my back.
“I think I was probably misunderstood in terms of my strong resolve to fight doping and clean up the sport,” he went on.
“The teams know this, because in regular meetings between UCI and the teams I hit them very, very hard. There were even accusations that we were in collusion with the dopers, but all of that was rubbish, and it was eventually disproven in the courts.
“However, this didn’t get almost any coverage in media.
“I would have to say that I think too many journalists write stories about doping and accuse UCI of failing to do this, that, or the other thing without ever actually coming to Aigle and sitting down with the UCI to see our side of the story as well.”
He added: “There is a lot of hypocrisy in this sport. Armstrong was run out of the sport entirely. But at the same time there are many French personalities – on TV, on radio, at the race starts, and so on – who were just as guilty as Armstrong, but the public continues to love them, and they don’t suffer any scrutiny of their past.
“The blame or the punishment has certainly been distributed unfairly. There is no such love for Armstrong, [Bjarne] Riis, or [Michael] Rasmussen,” he added.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.