Brian Cookson believes he has the necessary votes to win the presidency of the UCI when the organisation’s congress votes next week, and says some of the allegations about him laid by incumbent president Pat McQuaid are “just bonkers”.
“I’m confident that I will get a vote that is at least in the high 20s,” Cookson said in a press conference yesterday. “I’m confident but it’s not guaranteed. Elections can be won and lost in the last few days and it’s very important that we don’t take any of that for granted.”
Cookson needs 22 votes to win the presidency. There are 42 delegates to the UCI Congress, representing the continental confederations that make up the UCI’s structure.
However, the ballot is secret, so even though some confederations and delegates have publicly pledged support for Cookson, there is no certainty that they won’t revert to the devil they know when they cast their votes in Florence on September 27.
Two voting blocs, Europe and Oceania, have pledged full support for Cookson, so he believes he has their 17 votes in the bag. Asia’s nine delegates are believed to be solidly behind incumbent president Pat McQuaid whose tenure has been characterised by substantial work to develop cycling in the region.
Cookson believes he has secured support from some African and American delegates, though. Africa and South America have also benefitted from McQuaid’s globalisation efforts, but North America is expected to back Cookson.
Cookson has recently travelled extensively to meet delegates and try and secure support for his presidency. He believes some delegates were afraid of the consequences if they voted against McQuaid.
“The feedback I get is that [federations] felt, or did think, his position was unassailable. Therefore they didn’t want to cause upset or damage any relationship or commitments that UCI have made,” he said.
“I think that’s a bit strange in itself. For people to be afraid of who they are going to vote for in a democratic organisation for fear of losing some commitment of resources – that’s appalling. People don’t need to fear whether they are going to vote for me or not. Absolutely there is fear of people coming out and saying they want to support me and want a change.”
Cookson expressed disappointment at some of the claims made by McQuaid in recent weeks.
“To have read some of the bizarre allegations coming up…” he said. “This thing about me running the UCI from a retirement home in Lancashire, watching Cash in the Attic or something, it is just bonkers.
“I am really disappointed with the way things have panned out. I am determined to maintain some dignity and not get involved in this mud-slinging. I haven’t engaged in any mud-slinging, but when somebody starts chucking mud at you, then you have to respond, not in kind, but you have to at least give a fair account of yourself.”
Cookson said he would definitely move to Switzerland if elected and “give 100 percent to this role.”
Truth and reconciliation
Cookson said he believes strong measures are necessary to break cycling’s doping culture, including some sore of truth and reconciliation process in which current and former riders are rewarded with reduced sanctions and amnesty in return for telling the truth about drug use.
“We need to define exactly what we mean by (truth and reconciliation) and certainly as part of that we need to have more of an incentive for people to come forward and tell the truth, so I guess there will have to be some sort of amnesty or reduction in sanction,” said Cookson.
“Let’s not forget that doping in sport is actually against the law and illegal in some countries now, so (we need) to be clear about what level of amnesty and what level of offers we can make to people before we encourage them to tell the truth.”
An olive branch to Lance Armstrong?
The most prominent former rider whose testimony might help help uncover the techniques used by dopers to beat the system is Lance Armstrong, who cheated his way to seven Tour de France victories.
“I’m not very comfortable with offering Lance Armstrong much hope for the future but I guess that wouldn’t be in my hands anyway – that would be in the hands of the World Anti-Doping Agency,” said Cookson.
“Let me try to choose my words carefully: I think others have been treated more generously than he’s been treated and I would like a more level playing field.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean I want to see him back. I certainly don’t think there’s any room for him in elite cycling any longer but we’ll see what he has to say and I think if he’s got more truth to come out, as clearly he has, then I think he should tell that. But he would be looking for some incentive to do that.
“Let’s be clear, if people have misbehaved or done things they shouldn’t have done, (such as) anything illegal or ‘collusional’, then there is no hiding place,” he said.
“It’s absolutely right that public authorities, the police or judicial authorities should treat all those things in the appropriate way.
“I hope that’s not the case, I like to think there hasn’t been anything like that but clearly we need to investigate that.”
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.