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.”
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.”
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.”
Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.