Brian Cookson says that tomorrow’s UCI presidential election is a “crossroads moment” for cycling, but as an acrimonious electoral campaign draws to a close, he faces allegations of trying to exert undue influence on delegates to vote for him. The British Cycling president has also reportedly managed to prevent the votes cast in tomorrow’s secret ballot from being tallied by close colleagues of McQuaid within the UCI.
Telegraph Sport reports that originally UCI lawyer Philippe Verbiest and its manager of national federations relations Dominique Raymond, both seen as close allies of McQuaid, were due to check the votes cast by the 42 delegates at tomorrow’s election, to be held at the UCI Congress at the Salone del Cinquecento in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio.
Cookson, said to be shocked to hear of their involvement, has succeeded in having two national federation presidents should tally the votes, with their counts also checked independently instead.
The British Cycling president himself has been under fire on accusations of trying to exert undue influence on delegates, however.
According to the website Inside The Games, St Lucia Cycling Association president Cyril Mangal has written to all 178 member federations of the UCI, accusing Cookson of having employed "subversive legal tactics and intimidation" as he seeks to canvass support.
He claims he was contacted through the instant messaging service WhatsApp by Pascale Schyns, a former journalist and UCI commissaire – she left that position in 2011 reportedly due to McQuaid’s running of the governing body – who works as official translator for the Tour de France and is on the record as backing Cookson.
Mangal says in the letter seen by Inside The Games that Schyns urged him to lend his support to Cookson, with the St Lucia federation’s president maintaining that it was promised financial assistance if it went public with its endorsement with him.
He wrote: "St Lucia is very concerned that when we were contacted by someone supporting Cookson, the person indicated 'I would like you to be on the right side after the election, so you are on the priority list of the Federations which would be helped'.
"We sincerely hope that this would not be the way Mr Cookson would operate should he win the Presidency of the UCI."
He also says he was told that St Lucia would be on a "priority list of the Federations which would be helped" in the event Cookson wins.
However at a press conference in Florence yesterday – one at which Schyns herself was present, according to Inside The Games – Cookson denied that any member of his staff had been in touch with the St Lucia federation.
Mangal also criticised Igor Makarov, the billionaire owner of the Katusha team, president of the Russian cycling federation and a member of the UCI management committee, for his role in compiling a dossier alleging corruption on the part of McQuaid and other UCI officials.
The UCI president has vehemently denied the contents of the dossier, which was shown to members of the UCI management committee at their meeting in Bergen, Norway, in June. A summary was leaked earlier this month.
"Makarov...has gone on a frolic of his own in his deceptive campaign against President Pat McQuaid," he wrote.
"Now tell me, what gives Mr Makarov the right to independently hire private investigators and unilaterally decide that the UCI Ethics Commission is not independent?
"Who gave Mr Makarov the authority to completely ignore the disciplinary mechanisms of the UCI... So are we supposed to believe that Mr Makarov is independent and that he alone can decide who is independent?
"If there is genuine doubt why can't Mr. Makarov and company take their complaint to the highest authority which is the UCI congress?"
In a press release issued yesterday, Cookson said he was optimistic about his chances of succeeding McQuaid:
I'm feeling confident heading into the last 48 hours of the campaign and looking forward to meeting and talking with colleagues from around the world.
I have been humbled by the well wishes I have received from the cycling community across the globe, including many ordinary cycling fans, who have told me how much they want to see change in the leadership of the UCI.
On Friday we have the opportunity to begin to respond to those hopes and aspirations and embrace a new style of governance, a new way of working and enter an exciting new era for the UCI and our sport.
We have to begin a process which will restore trust and credibility in all that we do.
I do not say this just because it is the right thing to do.
I say it because at the heart of my vision for the UCI is a passionate yet simple belief.
It is this - by restoring the reputation of our International Federation our sport, cycling, will start to benefit from new investment, greater broadcast coverage, more cities wanting to host events and ultimately more riders and fans being drawn into cycling.
Friday is a crossroads moment.
When delegates cast their vote I ask that they think of those millions of people who love our sport, who want to encourage their children to be a part of it as cyclists and as fans.
I want to make our sport one where people can admire their heroes without doubt, aspire to compete, be a professional, even win a Tour or an Olympic medal and know that their friends will respect and not question them.
Ultimately, it is about a return to our core values and if we are prepared to take that step then we begin to tap into the amazing potential that we all know exists.
That is what motivates me, what has driven me as President of British Cycling and why I believe I would be a UCI President that the cycling family can be proud of.
McQuaid, seeking a third term, saw his original nominations withdrawn by Cycling Ireland, whose members voted against it, and Swiss Cycling, which also backed him.
In late July, it was revealed by the UCI that he had also been nominated by the Thai and Moroccan federations, the announcement made in a press release outlining a proposed change to the governing body’s constitution that would allow a presidential candidate to be nominated by any two national federations.
McQuaid has subsequently insisted that he is a member of both those federations, and that they nominated him prior to the 29 June deadline, even though the first anyone heard of those nominations was almost a month later, meaning that even without the proposed rule change, they are valid.
But when it announced the proposed amendment, which will be voted on tomorrow prior to the vote for the presidency, the UCI also said that exceptionally the change, if voted through, would have retrospective effect and apply to the current election – something, it has been claimed, added at the insistence of senior UCI officials.
That led to accusations by Cookson and supporters including Makarov that McQuaid is seeking to manipulate the election and subvert the democratic process. The UCI president, meanwhile, has accused his rival of being a front man for the Russian and others, and has said Cookson is trying to engineer “a coronation and not an election.”
Should McQuaid go on to win the election tomorrow – Cookson himself is said to be confident if securing more than enough votes to succeed him – it is likely that an appeal will be made to the Court of Arbitration for Sport regarding that change to the constitution, assuming it is voted through. Makarov has already said he will challenge the legality of a McQuaid victory.
Tomorrow's vote may not therefore be the end of the process.
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.