UCI presidential hopeful Brian Cookson, currently president of British Cycling and a member of the UCI management committee, says it is world cycling’s governing body and not Froome or his team that need to convince the public he is riding without the help of doping.
Cookson was speaking exclusively to road.cc at a reception at the British ambassador’s residence in Paris, hosted jointly by ambassador Sir Peter Ricketts and Welcome To Yorkshire, the tourism agency responsible for next year’s Grand Départ.
In a brief interview, he also talked about the success of British Cycling’s partnership with Sky, and also dropped some hints about how voting for the UCI presidential election in September, where he stands against incumbent Pat McQuaid, may go.
Q: Here we are for the second year running with a British rider poised to win the Tour de France. Sky have been in the sport for four years and British Cycling is a major part of that, they set out with the intention to get a British rider to win the Tour within five years and we’ve now had two in four. From a British Cycling point of view.
A: It’s fantastic and a wonderful achievement, with a lot of people working incredibly well and effectively together.
We set off with a strategy about 16 or 17 years ago to become the number one ranked nation in the world.
We focused initially on track disciplines because that’s more measurable and quantifiable, we always felt that it would spill over into road racing as well, but it’s probably happened quicker than we expected.
We got together to fund Team Sky because we were in the situation where we were taking guys 90 per cent of the way up the ladder, then the last couple of rungs they went to a team where we had no knowledge of their ethics, their programme, their coaching, no control over the events they were riding, and so on.
We wanted a team we could put our best guys with, we’ve done that, you can never have an exclusively one nation team, we found that out with Euskaltel [which last year relaxed its exclusively Basque recruitment policy].
We’re still sticking with that ambition, it’s been a great thing, a really great partnership between British Cycling and Sky, that goes right through from the top level to the grass roots, and from my point of view they’re an ideal corporate partner.
To have that ultimate level of elite success of winning two Tours de France inside four years is absolutely the icing on the cake, isn’t it?
Q: One of the big things that’s dominated some of the headlines during this Tour is whether he’s doing it clean. As Tour de France winner, he’s going to face those questions because of the sport’s history; how does he persuade people, especially those who won’t be persuaded?
A: There are always going to be sceptics and I guess it is very unfortunate for Chris that his success has come right after the revelations of the Armstrong era. So now, anyone who sees an exceptional performance in cycling will say, ‘last time I saw an exceptional performance it was due to doping, so this one must be as well.
But for me the tragedy of this is that people are looking to Chris and the team for an explanation this should be down to the UCI; we as an international body have not established enough credibility in anti-doping processes, there are still unanswered questions – forgive me if this sounds like electioneering – but a lot of that is down to the current leadership.
Some progress has been made, but we really do need that independent anti-doping agency that can start to restore confidence and believability back to our sport and it’s as simple as that, I think; but it will take time.
Q: You’ve made the point that some people take you to task for being a member of the UCI Management Committee that presided over these issues, but you’ve said that committee members don’t always agree, even if there has to be consensus at the end?
A: Exactly and I’ve made my views felt very forcibly, and other members of the management committee have, on occasions you win the argument, on occasions you don’t.
I’ve been on the management committee now for four years, I’m the new boy, I’m coming to the end of my first term, as it were.
Some of the things I’ve seen I’ve liked, I think the UCI is in many ways a very, very good organisation, but I just think now it’s the time for change.
The UCI’s own stakeholder consultation exercise’s number one priority was to re-establish credibility in the sport’s anti-doping processes and in its leadership – and you can’t re-establish credibility in the leadership without a change in leadership, I’m afraid.
Q: You mentioned electioneering, and publicly we’ve seen you and Pat McQuaid exchange opinions whether through emails, blog posts, in your own rather different styles; but it’s not the public you need to convince, it’s those 42 delegates at the World Cycling Congress; so there must be an enormous amount of work going on behind the scenes?
A. Absolutely. Europe has 14 votes, Asia has 9, Pan America has 9, Africa has 7 and Oceania has 3; so, 42 votes in total, 22 needed to win.
So obviously I have been doing a lot of lobbying and I did meet a lot of people before I decided to stand, and I was convinced there would be enough support.
I don’t take any of that for granted, I’m not saying that any of the votes are in the bag now, they aren’t, so there’s a lot of work to be done between now and September 27.
I’ve already been to Africa to meet their management committee, I’m going again to South Africa to the World Mountain Bike Championships at the end of August, beginning of September, I’m going to Miami to meet the Pan American delegates.
Asia at the moment are being a little bit more resistant, and I think they’re at the moment saying they’re likely to support Pat [McQuaid], Oceania, I’m hopeful of getting their support.
So there’s a lot of work to be done and the sooner we get there the better, I think.
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.