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Commentary: An ‘all-out fight’ for UCI president nears its end

Current president Pat McQuaid and his challenger Brian Cookson have been locked in a fierce campaign all summer

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The e-mails come, one after another. Brian Cookson’s campaign. Pat McQuaid’s. Announcements. Challenges. Calls for investigation. Accusations. Denials.

With only two weeks to the vote to crown the next UCI president, the din of election is obliterating everything around it. In other words, it’s become a nasty election, like any other, sport or civic.

What began as mere spats have escalated into all-out fights for the helm of the Union Cycliste Internationale. Example? On Thursday, incumbent president Pat McQuaid said it was no coincidence Sir Dave Brailsford (Sky) had been knighted rather than his challenger for the thorned-throne of the UCI, Brian Cookson. The queen is getting pulled into this thing? Really?

It got off to a frisky start months ago when challenger Brian Cookson, the head of British Cycling, announced his candidacy. He would attempt to unseat McQuaid, who, in spite of recent efforts — and marked progress — to clean up cycling still wore the stains of the EPO generation’s crimes. His name bubbled up in connection to the Lance Armstrong file, as his UCI was accused of covering up tests and protecting riders. A panel the UCI put together to investigate itself was swiftly disbanded.

Cookson, however, painted himself as a fresh breeze, straight off the English Channel.

“We must restore cycling’s credibility. The first priority for the new UCI president must be to change the way that anti-doping is managed so that people can have confidence in the sport,” Cookson said through a statement in early June. “We must also urgently carry out a fully independent investigation into the allegations of corruption in this area which have so damaged the UCI’s reputation.”

In the background, and sometimes foreground, McQuaid worked to secure a nomination for his candidacy. His home nation, Ireland, didn’t support his bid for another term atop the UCI in what amounted to a recall election for Irish clubs.

The no-confidence vote overturned a previous nomination by Cycling Ireland’s board members to nominate McQuaid. The Swiss federation offered up a nomination, but it became mired in a legal mudslide. The nominational gerrymandering continued, though, with Asian confederation President Hee Wook Cho hoping to amend a UCI rule that would allow UCI presidential candidates to run with the backing of any two federations — home or not. Soon after, the Thai and Moroccan federations announced their nominations of McQuaid.

The UCI Congress, which meets at the upcoming UCI Road World Championships in Florence, Italy, still has to accept the rule change before McQuaid can be declared a candidate. If he’s allowed to go forward, the Irishman will then see another vote, this one for a third term as president.

Of course, Cookson blasted the procedure, calling it an “unconstitutional” change in the election protocol.

“The efforts to change the nomination and electoral process announced last night on behalf of the UCI Director General are a clear sign of desperation from the incumbent president, Pat McQuaid,” Cookson said in a statement on his website. “This latest twist appears to be nothing more than a fraught attempt to undemocratically and unconstitutionally impact on the process while it is underway.”

Mike Plant, a former member of the board of directors at the U.S. Olympic Committee and a member of the UCI Management Committee, called the proposed rule change “unconscionable, unethical, dishonest, unprofessional, manipulative and destructive.”

Plant also wrote that he couldn’t sit by “as a leader of the UCI, and condone this type of inappropriate action, nor pretend that it is an acceptable way to run a global sports federation whose president pontificates about its values and virtues.”

But that — all of that — was merry-go-round stuff compared to what came next. Earlier this week, VeloNews reported on a file leaked to media outlets, a summary of a lengthy dossier alleging deep corruption at the UCI under McQuaid and his predecessor, Hein Verbruggen.

According to the document — a three-page summary of a 54-page dossier that has existed since June — McQuaid and Verbruggen solicited a bribe from a team owner, bent drug-testing rules for Lance Armstrong and allowed his attorneys to review an independent inquiry into his doping, and attempted to cover up Alberto Contador’s 2010 positive drug test during their tenures as presidents.

“This is a scurrilous and libelous attack on my character, with a political agenda that is both nakedly transparent and totally contemptible — and unfortunately one that is completely in character with the tactics of my opponents,” McQuaid said, labeling the dossier as “gangster politics.”

“If Brian Cookson does not now condemn these tactics utterly, then we can only assume that he supports them — and we will all have a graphic preview of how the UCI will be run for the coming four years under his leadership and with his henchmen,” McQuaid continued.

Shortly after that, McQuaid announced several new ideas and programs regarding revenue sharing and capping race days, but was criticized in how he presented the new plans.

McQuaid announced his plans via a personal press officer, but sources have confirmed that the ideas described in the proposal originated with the UCI’s stakeholder process in late 2012 and early 2013. McQuaid’s statement failed to mention the stakeholder process or the origin of the proposal. McQuaid did not respond to a VeloNews attempt at clarification on where the ideas came from, and why they were sent out via a personal public relations agency rather than the UCI.

And, finally, Thursday morning, McQuaid’s campaign sent out a release wondering just how Cookson — if elected — would run the world’s cycling body from England, where he presides over the national programs.

“It is already very clear that Brian is seeking a coronation instead of an election. Now he wants to become a ceremonial President,” McQuaid said through a release. “I appreciate that Brian has retired but the UCI can not reform its governance and management to accommodate his retirement plans or to facilitate being remunerated while keeping his feet up at home in Lancashire.”

And so it has gone, and will go. But this much is certain: someone’s feet will be up, and very soon.

This weekend, the European Cycling Union is organizing what it calls an important “moment of confrontation.” In Zurich on Sunday, both men will present their cases to the UCI elective congress. On the table will be many pieces of policy for dissection, including the proposed rule change that may either usher McQuaid into a third term, or show him the door. The UCI Congress will elect the governing body’s next president in Florence.

But until then, there is no mute button.