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Cookson: Truth and reconciliation is first priority

Brian Cookson said the misdeeds of the UCI need to come to light and he will pursue an investigation in his first weeks, if he is elected

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PARIS (AFP) — Brian Cookson, the challenger to incumbent Pat McQuaid in next week’s presidential election at the UCI, has vowed to cleanse the organization of its tarnished reputation over doping if he is elected by the UCI Congress.

Cookson, the British Cycling president, is challenging McQuaid for the presidency of cycling’s world governing body at next week’s Congress in Florence, Italy, during the road world championships.

McQuaid has come under fire this year since a raft of allegations were made against the UCI’s handling of doping in cycling in the wake of Lance Armstrong’s admission in January to having cheated throughout his seven Tour de France victories, of which he has now been stripped. McQuaid’s predecessor and longtime confidant, Hein Verbruggen, was accused by another disgraced dope cheat, who has been stripped of his one Tour de France victory, Floyd Landis, of having accepted a bribe from Armstrong to cover up a positive test from the 2001 Tour of Switzerland, an accusation repeated by another of Armstrong’s former U.S. Postal Service teammates, Tyler Hamilton, in his award-winning biography, The Secret Race.

Verbruggen denied the allegation, although McQuaid later admitted that the UCI had accepted two donations from Armstrong during his predecessor’s tenure. McQuaid has himself not been free of controversy, having brought defamation cases against those who accused the UCI of a cover-up while earlier this month a dossier, allegedly compiled by two investigators with experience working for U.S. government agencies, leaked to the press claims he had solicited a bribe from a cycling team owner in order to promote that team and also attempted to cover up Alberto Contador’s failed doping test from the 2010 Tour de France in exchange for money.

Now Cookson says he would usher in an era of greater transparency and credibility if he were elected.

“We need to have a forensic and detailed investigation into all the allegations that have been made about collusion in the UCI over the years,” he said during a conference call with a select group of journalists, including AFP, on Tuesday. “That’s still not been made available and I want to make sure that happens sooner rather than later.

“Away from that, we need to establish a genuinely independent anti-doping body for cycling. The fact is people just don’t trust the UCI to handle doping properly any longer, and until we have a properly independent body that will continue to be the case.

“So making sure we establish that is a key top priority; we’ve got to do it in a way that allies us with WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency).

“We need to look at the analysis of what has gone wrong. People have talked of a truth and reconciliation commission — I’m not entirely comfortable with those words but we certainly need to have a thorough review, something like the Mitchell Report in baseball in the United States that was very well received.

“I want to get that under way as soon as I can in the first few weeks of my presidency.

“It’s absolutely essential that the mechanism we use to do that has the support of the World Anti-Doping Agency, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and other bodies that have an involvement, and I think we need to do that sooner rather than later.

“And, frankly, we need a different leadership for that to even get to that stage.”

On that issue, Cookson admitted he is unsure whether McQuaid will be able to stand against him in the election as the current president does not have the backing of his home federation, as required by current UCI statutes. Even so, Cookson expects to be involved in a vote of some sorts.

“Let’s see what Congress comes up with; at the moment I don’t see a lot of support for the proposal to allow retrospective nominations (which McQuaid would need to stand),” said the Briton. “I think the issue of the validity of Pat’s nomination is around the nominations he’s got: do they fulfill the requirements of the Constitution?

“There may well be a discussion about that at the Congress before the proposal, but at the end of the day I’ve made a commitment to the national federations that I will still insist upon an election, a vote, as to whether they want me or not, even if there is just one candidate.”