McQuaid facing serious challenge from Brit for UCI presidency

British cycling chief could pose real threat to Pat McQuaid's UCI leadership position

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Call it a shot across the bow.

It appears UCI president Pat McQuaid will have an opponent in September’s election for a third four-year term after all.

According to a report from The Daily Telegraph, British Cycling president Brian Cookson is poised to announce his candidacy for the UCI presidency on Tuesday, representing a direct challenge to McQuaid and his eight-year grip on power in cycling’s world governing body.

Cookson was not immediately available for comment, but he is viewed as a legitimate, well-grounded voice within the British cycling establishment.

The 61-year-old Cookson took over the struggling British cycling federation in 1997, a year after helping to rescue it from possible bankruptcy.

In the non-salaried position at British Cycling, he has been one of the key figures behind the U.K.’s cycling revival. The sport has reached mainstream popularity, capped by the 2012 season with Bradley Wiggins (Sky) becoming the first British winner of the Tour de France, and London hosting the Olympic Games.

According to the British media, Cookson’s name has been linked previously to a possible candidacy for the UCI’s top spot, but he denied those reports as late as January.

According to Telegraph, Cookson has been quietly canvassing other federations to gauge possible support for his candidacy. The newspaper reported that Cookson “passionately believe(s) the credibility of the UCI and cycling in general should be restored.”

Since 2009, Cookson has been a member of the UCI’s Management Committee, a collection of top brass from global cycling that is charged with steering the organization. He served as president of the UCI’s cyclocross commission from 2009-2011 and, since 2011, he has been part of the road commission, the powerful panel that decides on many of the rules and regulations outlining professional road racing.

With his background and connections, Cookson will represent a serious challenge to McQuaid and his quest for a third four-year term.

McQuaid, who could not be reached for comment Monday, has confirmed he will seek another term, insisting he wants to “finish off the job” of globalizing cycling and fighting against doping.

The Irishman’s tenure, however, has been marked by controversy. McQuaid, 63, has come under heavy fire in the wake of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s case against the U.S. Postal Service team and Lance Armstrong. McQuaid served as road commission chairman for eight years, before his election to the presidency in 2006, and then-president Hein Verbruggen remains honorary president at the UCI.

McQuaid had to turn to the Swiss Cycling Federation to support his nomination for re-election after his home country was unsure of whether or not it wanted to back his bid for a third term. McQuaid was allowed to seek Switzerland’s backing because he lives there, though that support is now reportedly in question.

McQuaid remains adamant that the UCI did all it could to combat doping during the EPO era and denied all allegations of corruption during the Armstrong years. In an interview last week, McQuaid said the “UCI has nothing to hide.”

Cookson will present a formidable challenge to McQuaid because he will be viewed as a legitimate candidate with knowledge of how governing bodies work, yet is largely untainted by the tinge of doping scandals that have marked much of cycling over the past decades.

It is not clear if Cookson has links to a protest group, called Change Cycling Now, that formed last fall as part of an angry reaction to the USADA report and alleged claims of corruption within the UCI during the Armstrong era.

Elections will be held during the UCI meetings that coincide with the 2013 elite road world championships in Florence, Italy, in September.

The path to the presidency

Many may hope the UCI elections will be viewed as a mandate on the McQuaid years, but in reality, the voting is limited to a few key members of the international cycling establishment.

According to UCI rules, voting is restricted to just a portion of the governing bodies across all continents that belong to the UCI. It is not a general election, but instead, each federation with voting rights will cast one vote for one candidate. The candidate with the majority votes will win.

Rules also outline how many votes each continent will have. For example, Europe will have 14 delegates, represented by various nations, although Europe has more than 40 representative delegations within the continent.

Europe has the most voting members, with 14, followed by nine each for Asia and the Americas, with Africa holding seven, and Oceania three.

It’s hard to read at this point how the votes would fall.

Cookson will be able to count on support within the U.K. and Europe due to his longtime links to the UCI as well as the International Olympic Committee, but he is largely unknown beyond Europe.

McQuaid, meanwhile, has strong links to Asian, African, and Latin American federations, which count on the Irishman’s influence within the IOC to push for the maximum number of member nations allowed into the Olympic Games for cycling, The affable Irishman has built his career on strong personal relationships across delegations worldwide.

Once confirmed as a candidate, Cookson will be able to outline his agenda for what he proposes to do if he’s elected. It should make for some interesting politicking in the coming months.