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Tensions are rising in the build up to the 2017 UCI presidential election, to be held at UCI Congress on September 21 during the world road championships in Bergen, Norway.
Incumbent president Brian Cookson, who defeated two-term president Pat McQuaid in Florence in 2013, seeks a second four-year term but faces a challenger in David Lappartient, president of the European Cycling Union since March 2013, and UCI vice-president since Cookson’s election.
While relations between the two have remained relatively amenable over the summer, that may be changing one week out from the UCI Congress.
At the heart of the issue is an allegation that’s surfaced that Lappartient has promised McQuaid, the former UCI president, a prominent position at the UCI if he wins the UCI presidency.
Sources have told CyclingTips that Lappartient offered McQuaid an honorary president position within the UCI in return for his support, and that before his death in June, Verbruggen was “actively contacting people to drum up support for Lappartient.”
Both Lappartient and McQuaid deny any arrangement to bring McQuaid back into the hallways of UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland, should Lappartient win the election.
Lappartient described the rumour as “entirely false information” and said that spreading it to journalists and others was “a regrettable action” that was part of Cookson’s election strategy.
McQuaid said suggestions of such a deal was “absolute rubbish.” He did acknowledge, however, that he sent an email to UCI voting delegates in support of Lappartient.
“If I intervened, it’s only to encourage a change of presidency, which I feel is badly needed,” McQuaid told CyclingTips, suggesting that the rumor of an honorary president role for him was spawned by Cookson’s campaign.
The backstory between Cookson and McQuaid
While he was UCI president for two terms and oversaw significant changes such as the implementation of the UCI WorldTour and the biological passport, McQuaid’s presidency was not without controversy.
The Irishman held strong links to Hein Verbruggen, UCI president from 1991 to 2005, and was no stranger to conflict during his eight-year tenure. McQuaid’s second term was marked by sparring with U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart about jurisdiction over the investigation into doping by Lance Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Service team. McQuaid ultimately lost that battle — Tygart published USADA’s Reasoned Decision in October 2012, with allegations of UCI corruption and cover-ups — and 11 months later, McQuaid lost his presidency.
The 2013 campaign was a bitter one between Cookson and McQuaid that saw allegations of bribes, leaking of secret dossiers, and arguing over federation nominations lead all the way into the day of the election. As the September 2013 UCI Congress descended into chaos amid legal wrangling over the UCI Constitution, Cookson — who ran on a platform as a reformer — ultimately threw his arms in the air and demanded a vote, which he won, 24 delegates to 18, in a secret ballot.
Four years later, Cookson is the incumbent, Lappartient is running as a reformer, and McQuaid, to some degree, is again involved in the politicking and intrigue.
Cookson, who served as president of British Cycling from 1997 to 2013, ran on a platform of reforming the sport’s image as many pointed to McQuaid’s tenure as president during the sport’s most turbulent era. However now Cookson faces scrutiny of his own due to allegations of bullying and discrimination at British Cycling while he was president, as well as the UK Anti-Doping investigation into TUEs and questionable medical practices at Team Sky in 2011 through 2013, with ties from the team back to the federation.
In June, British Member of Parliament Damian Collins said that the crisis in British Cycling was due to poor governance structure, that none of the board members during the period covered by the investigation should remain, including current chairman Jonathan Browning, and that Cookson should not be re-elected. British Cycling rejected the criticisms, saying that Cookson had “made an enormous contribution to the sport in this country and around the world, and we wish him every best wish as he seeks re-election for the role of UCI President.”
During his presidency, Cookson’s achievements include repairing relations with WADA and commissioning an independent audit of UCI anti-doping operations, leading to full independence of the Cycling Anti Doping Foundation [CADF], a structure he claims is “a model which the IOC and WADA are now pursuing for all sports.”
Cookson also oversaw a complete revision of the UCI Constitution, resulting in term limits for the UCI president and more equal distribution of voting representation, and established the Cycling Independent Reform Commission [CIRC], an organisation that investigated doping and the handling of doping cases in cycling’s recent history, and was ultimately critical of past UCI practices — including those of former UCI presidents Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid.
Upon publication of the CIRC report in March 2015, Cookson called for Verbruggen to stand down as honorary president. In December of that year, Verbruggen said that Cookson had “renounced definitively from asking me to resign from my honorary presidency and agrees not to mention this question anymore publicly or privately,” also claiming that the UCI had been forced to pay €40,000 in legal fees to Verbruggen.
Cookson denied that, however, saying in a statement, “I was elected to change the way the UCI conducts itself and therefore, following a request from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), I indeed met with Mr. Hein Verbruggen last summer. We came to a confidential agreement which was to ensure, amongst other things, that he would stop using his influence to criticise and cause trouble for the UCI. Since Mr. Verbruggen never respected his commitments, the agreement is considered null. No money has ever been paid to Mr. Verbruggen since I became president.”
In an interview with CyclingTips in June, Cookson said his main achievement has been “restoring the reputation of the UCI, in getting us out of all the constant battles that we were in with WADA, the IOC and everybody else.”
“I think restoring the integrity by establishing the CIRC report, learning the lessons of that period and talking all of the recommendations that were made by that report into practice,” he added. “I think also moving forward substantially on women’s cycling with huge progress with the women’s WorldTour, equalizing the prize money for men and women at world championships and World Cups.”
Cookson’s six-point plan for a second term intends to “drive growth across all cycling’s disciplines, accelerate our international development, champion cycling for transport and leisure, ensure there is equal opportunity for men and women to participate and compete, build on our restored credibility and ensure the UCI continues to drive excellence in our operations.”
Lappartient is running on a platform that includes the possibility of pooling broadcast rights and selling them via the UCI, and developing a ‘mutualized’ production service to ensure high-quality TV broadcasts. The former French cycling federation president also wants to abolish the team time-trial event for professional teams at the annual world road championships, stage a championships in Africa, ban team radios, hold the world championships on courses made up of circuits to cut broadcast costs and boost crowds, and bring the sport’s four main disciplines together every fourth year for a combined world championships.
The fight against technological fraud, or mechanical doping, is also something Lappartient has stressed as a priority.
Lappartient is understood to have significant support from within Europe, while Cookson is believed to be popular in Africa, the Americas and Asia.
The website insidethegames reported that Cookson spoke Thursday at the 131st International Olympic Committee Session in Lima, Peru, claiming that he has 30 of the 45 voting delegates backing him in his election bid, adding that he is “reasonably confident” he will be re-elected in Bergen in a week’s time.
Allegations of quid pro quo
In an email sent by McQuaid on September 6 and obtained by CyclingTips, the former UCI president wrote, “Having been president for eight years I know what is involved and how a president should act and lead his sport. Unfortunately I haven’t seen any of this from Brian this past four years, indeed he has abdicated his responsibilities to his GM Martin Gibbs. They have a big communications machine behind them which gives the impression that everything is rosy but I am aware behind the scenes it is not. Brian hasn’t made it to any Board such as IOC [International Olympic Committee], ASOIF [Association of Summer Olympic International Federations], SportAccord, or even WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency], and so UCI has little clout in the larger international sporting world. It’s the same with cycling stakeholders — teams, riders, organisers, etc — they have no respect for UCI under Brian, which is why they made no progress on the UCI WorldTour. I could give many more examples but I won’t bore you with them. Suffice to say that I do think David Lappartient could do a much better job and be a real leader of UCI.”
McQuaid confirmed he’d sent the email, but denied that he’d done so for an honorary president position.
“My opinion on this presidential election is no secret,” McQuaid told CyclingTips. “I’ve given several interviews critical of Brian Cookson and his presidency. But to say that I was promised a senior position is absolute rubbish. I’ve received no assurances from David, and he doesn’t need me to win the UCI election. He’s well capable of winning on his own.”
Likewise, Lappartient acknowledged that McQuaid sent an email to UCI voting delegates in support of his candidacy, but denied that he’d promised McQuaid an honorary president position.
“I have been informed by various and verified sources that Brian Cookson has announced to numerous journalists and other members surrounding my campaign about this false information,” Lappartient wrote to CyclingTips in an email. “There is no doubt that this regrettable action is part of his campaign strategy. However, I want to reiterate that this is entirely false information. Campaigning doesn’t mean be ready to do anything and everything.
“From information I gathered, it has been reported that Mr. McQuaid has sent an email to a couple of delegates, whom he knows, by telling them his personal opinion about Brian Cookson and therefore call on them to support my candidature. This was a personal act of Mr. McQuaid and not on my demand, and I did not make any form of promise to Mr. McQuaid. It is pitiful that Brian Cookson is not concentrating his time and energy on explaining any vision he may have for cycling development in the next four years. That is what delegates are expecting, and not to delve into old stories from four years ago. This act is undoubtedly a clear sign of despair from Brian Cookson and his languished campaign.
“For my part, I will continue to conduct my campaign by explaining why my propositions for the future of the UCI are far more compelling.”
Asked for comment, Cookson issued a statement saying he had “been shown proof” that McQuaid is “actively lobbying” on Lappartient’s behalf.
“I am aware of the rumours that Pat McQuaid has been actively lobbying on behalf of UCI Presidential candidate David Lappartient,” Cookson’s statement read. “I have of course seen the declarations Pat McQuaid has made recently in support of David in the media and I have also been shown proof that Pat is actively lobbying on David’s behalf.
“Only they know if Pat has been offered a senior role at the UCI, which would be a grave concern for anyone who can recall the disastrous situation that the UCI was in just four years ago under his leadership. I am focused on running my own campaign with the support of people who have contributed to restoring trust in our sport, to take cycling forward and build on the great achievements we have had over the past four years.
“It is, however, disappointing that David Lappartient has not come out renouncing the support of Pat McQuaid, but having hosted Pat and other former executives at the first Elite European Road Championships in France last year, I am not surprised. It speaks volumes for the devastating direction David would take the UCI in if he wins next week’s election.”
Previous reporting done by CyclingTips news editor Shane Stokes was sourced in this report.