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Longtime legal counsel out at UCI

Architect behind the UCI Constitution, multiple legal battles leaves the sport's governing body

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Shake-ups continue at the UCI following the arrival of new president Brian Cookson.

The new leader of cycling’s world governing body quickly replaced three key positions, naming new vice presidents last week. On Thursday, officials confirmed that longtime UCI legal counsel Philippe Verbiest would no longer work for the governing body.

When contacted by VeloNews on Thursday, an official close to Cookson Officials confirmed Verbiest was out, and that UCI staff would be informed Friday morning.

Details of Verbiest’s departure were not known, but the Belgian lawyer has long been one of the fixtures of the UCI and was a key architect of the governing body’s Constitution.

His work with cycling’s international governing body dates back to the mid-1980s, when he provided counsel to the fledgling professional cycling federation. When that morphed into the larger and more powerful UCI with the arrival of former president Hein Verbruggen, Verbiest played a central role in expanding the scope of the governing body.

Though never a full-time employee of the UCI, Verbiest told VeloNews last week that almost of all his time was spent on the UCI’s legal matters.

“At that time [the mid-1980s], it was now and then, but as the sport became more and more professional, I had more and more work to do,” Verbiest told VeloNews. “It is full-time work. I am not employed by the UCI; it takes almost all of my time.”

Verbiest kept a low profile, but was an important, behind-the-scenes player in many of the UCI’s run-ins over doping scandals, power struggles, and turf wars.

Few even knew who Verbiest was until last week’s UCI Congress in Florence, Italy. Verbiest took center stage when delegates bitterly debated the validity of the candidacy of former president Pat McQuaid.

At one point, Verbiest had to stop proceedings and leave the dais to study the UCI Constitution as debate broiled over McQuaid’s endorsement from Thailand and Morocco.

That debate became moot when Cookson dramatically called for the vote, and handily won, 24-18.

Moments later, VeloNews asked Verbiest if he expected to continue as legal counsel.

“I know him [Cookson] as a member of the Management Committee for several years, but I don’t know what is in his mind now,” Verbiest said. “That will be a decision of the new president. I suppose we will have a discussion of that, and we will see.”

Verbiest’s exit severs one of the longest-running links to Verbruggen, the once-powerful UCI president who stepped aside in 2005 to run the 2008 Olympic Summer Games in Beijing.

Cookson appears to be living up to his promise to shake things up at the governing body. Just a day after winning election to a four-year term, Cookson moved quickly to name three new vice presidents.

“We’re going to take the UCI in a new direction,” Cookson said Saturday. “I won’t have all of the answers to everything within a few days, but we certainly can start this journey in the right place.”

The new vice presidents are David Lappartient from France, president of the European Cycling Union; Mohamed Azzam, from Egypt, president of the African confederation; and Australian Tracey Gaudry, president of the Oceania confederation.

They replaced Hee Wook Cho of Korea, Renato Di Rocco of Italy, and Artur Lopes of Portugal.

Velo editor in chief Neal Rogers, on assignment in Italy, contributed to this report.