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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Brian Cookson, who suffered a landslide loss in his reelection bid for UCI president two weeks ago, was warned to stop relinquishing his powers.
Insiders say the management committee members and all three UCI vice presidents met with Cookson two years ago and told him to distance himself from director general Martin Gibbs and strategic advisor Justin Abbott and to take more responsibility himself.
“He was told several times by management committee members that they were not happy with that situation and that he needed to change it, and to take more of the responsibility himself, but he refused to do that and that’s where it went wrong,” former UCI president Pat McQuaid, who served from 2005 to 2013, told VeloNews.
“He had five confederation presidents on his management committee for the last four years and they all had a big influence on the vote. They had warned him to get more involved in the presidency. He didn’t do that.”
The Irishman McQuaid remains one of Cookson’s political rivals, especially after losing his re-election bid to the Englishman in 2013. However, he maintains relationships with many international federation presidents and committee members.
Cookson lost the vote, held during the world championship week in Bergen, Norway, 37-8 to Frenchman David Lappartient. Only one other UCI president had such a short stay in the 100-plus year history of cycling’s governing body.
“He needed to take the decisions going forward, and not the director general,” said Italian Cycling Federation president Renato Di Rocco, one of the UCI’s vice presidents. “We tried many times to convince him to change his ways but he always refused. He had two years to put things right but he didn’t want to do it or couldn’t do it. I don’t know the reason.”
Lappartient, 44, presided over the French Cycling Federation and the European Cycling Union before taking over the UCI. He is said to have secured votes from around the world except for two from Asia, one or two from the Americas, and the Oceania vote.
“David has a personality,” McQuaid continued. “He’s outgoing and he’s able to think and talk on his feet. Brian was never like that because he had to have everything prepared for him by a communications company. He’s an introvert, basically.”
Added Di Rocco: “Brian’s a serious person but he made a mistake in selecting his staff. David communicates much more. He’s always available to listen and that’s something that Brian pretended to do.
“For sure [Lappartient] will give more weight to the sporting aspects, Brian excessively focused on the business. For instance, the worlds in Doha gave more money to cycling but worsened the image of cycling.
“He continued to insist that the Tour of Turkey has its own exclusive dates and not overlap with Lombardia. That’s something that even the Giro d’Italia doesn’t have with the Tour of California. Or Paris-Nice. It’s unbelievable.”
The UCI will work on reforming the WorldTour calendar back to something more recognizable. The new races and separate points calculations, which began in 2017, confuse many followers. The 2018 season is supposed to be a year of changes, which could be rolled out by 2019.
During his four-year term, Cookson introduced tougher rules on therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) and an independent anti-doping body, and he also pushed to improve women’s racing. An undercurrent, however, led to him being out-maneuvered in his reelection bid.
As per the rules, Cookson left office immediately before the final world championship races. He and Gibbs responded to the criticism, but Abbott failed to respond before publication of this article.
“I intentionally set out to have a clear structural delineation of roles and responsibilities between myself and my director general,” Cookson said. “My style has always been about consensus and I have made no secret of that — it is what made my tenure at British Cycling so successful and what helped to get me elected.
“I assembled an extremely strong and capable team, including Martin Gibbs and Justin Abbott, who worked with me to rebuild and deliver real positive change.”
Gibbs added: “Brian promised to transform the UCI, which at that time was in crisis. He did just that and it was hard work. I am proud to have worked for him to deliver on his vision.”