Brian Cookson counting on taking top job in cycling

Bitter battle for UCI presidency reaches its climax on Friday in Florence with Lancastrian out in front
  • @RobinScottEllio

Brian Cookson's advisors would prefer him not to do his maths in public. Tomorrow the softly spoken Lancastrian will head for Florence and the start of a week of intense campaigning aimed to culminate in his election as the most powerful man in cycling around lunchtime on Friday. He departs in confident mood, convinced the numbers are beginning to add up to his advantage.

Tuscany has long been a favoured destination for a certain type of Briton. If this coming week pans out as planned then it could occupy a special place in the history of British cycling. On the roads around the city Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome will seek to add world titles to their Tour de France honours while inside the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence's crenellated town hall, Cookson will seek to oust Pat McQuaid as president of the UCI, cycling's governing body.

The Irishman, who has held the role since 2006, has been criticised for the UCI's ultra-defensive response to the Lance Armstrong affair and a failure to deal effectively with cycling's troubled past. And earlier this week Cookson sat in the stands of the Manchester Velodrome, the home of British Cycling and a home he was instrumental in saving, and suggested he had the support in the "high 20s" from among the 42 voting delegates at the UCI congress.

His willingness to put a number to his backers – even if it was accompanied by the usual caveats of work to be done, chickens not counted etc – was not what those who have helped run a carefully planned election campaign wanted him to do; hostages to fortune and all that. Mike Lee, the man who helped London win the Olympics and Qatar the 2022 World Cup, is advising Cookson and he, as well as anyone, is able to remind the president of British Cycling of the dangers of counting votes before the "X" is marked on the ballot paper.

Qatar won the vote for the 2022 finals on the same day England were humiliated in their bid to host the 2018 World Cup – naively believing they had secured many more than the embarrassing two votes they emerged with. Nevertheless, Cookson, and Lee, have reason to be confident because the numbers appear to be stacking up. Cookson has been promised all 14 European votes after securing the backing of the confederation with an impressive presentation last week that saw 27 of the 37 national federations back him ahead of McQuaid.

In the peculiar nature of the UCI election procedure the actual voting delegates are not disclosed until the congress begins. There will be seven from Africa, nine each from Pan America and Asia and three from Oceania to add to the European contingent. There is no guarantee all of the European delegates will back Cookson, although he expects them to.

"I am confident because I know those people and I'm trusting their integrity and honesty," said Cookson. "They've got a pretty clear mandate. The vote was 27-10, two-thirds, one-third. I don't know what could be stronger than that and I entirely expect those people to behave accordingly. I'm sure they will."

He is also counting on the three Oceania votes, and following a successful visit to Miami a decent chunk of the Pan American nine as well – Steve Johnson, the chief executive of US Cycling, delivered a glowing message of support for the Briton last week. While McQuaid is likely to claim the entire Asian vote, Cookson expects some African support towards a total that would take him comfortably past the 22 required for victory. McQuaid though is not a man to go down without a fight.

The UCI's extraordinary decision to allow the nomination process to be altered retrospectively – the congress is expected to approve the change ahead of the election itself – used up one of his lives after Ireland and Switzerland both declined to nominate him. The Moroccan and Thai federations will provide the re-fashioned nomination and so long as he makes the start line, McQuaid remains outwardly sure he will win, despite the apparent majority support for Cookson as the congress gathers in Florence.

McQuaid struck a noticeably less bullish note on Friday, saying he had "learned from any mistakes" – his usual approach is to deny having made any and attack those who claim otherwise. He maintains that he is still the man to "re-unify" the sport, and believes he can do it "fairly easily", which is either the mark of a man certain of success or someone who is fooling himself but no longer anyone else.

Further success down the road: The Yates herald new generation

While the argy-bargy takes place in Florence, on the roads most British focus will be on Sir Bradley Wiggins, who races in the time trial on Wednesday, and Chris Froome, who leads a strong road race team next Sunday in the UCI Road World Championships.

Wheels are definitely already in motion to produce the next generation of elite British cyclists, and there are high hopes in the under-23 event for the Yates twins, Adam and Simon – the latter having won the sixth stage of the Tour of Britain last week.

Lucy Garner, a junior world champion last year, will make her senior debut in the women's road race in support of another podium contender, Lizzie Armitstead.