When Brian Cookson last week announced his decision to stand against Pat McQuaid as president of UCI, he would have anticipated a fight. In fact it will be a no-holds-barred scrap for the privilege of becoming cycling's most powerful administrator.
Within days of the Briton announcing his candidature, McQuaid, who is seeking a third term, has gone on the offensive with an attack on Cookson in an extraordinary letter to the sport's national federations. In it he worries that democracy is being served in an underhand way, and that Cookson has close ties with the oligarch Igor Makarov.
Scandal and professional cycling are hardly distant bedfellows, but this is hot stuff. After outlining the many times that Cookson had promised support in the past, McQuaid effectively accuses him of being a stooge of the Russian, outlining a meeting in Moscow with Makarov and a former UCI management committee member, Wojciech Walkiewicz, a man who he claims "is notorious for manipulating elections". He continues: "In 2006, the UCI ethics commission found Mr Walkiewicz guilty of breaching the UCI Code of Ethics for arranging for national federations to club together secretly to predetermine the results of the 2005 UAE elections by fixing the list of election candidates. The results of UEC elections in 2009 and 2013 showed similar voting patterns, suggesting he was involved in very similar activities – and now Mr Walkiewicz appears to be trying to do the same for the UCI."
Cookson has not responded to these allegations, but he at least now knows that McQuaid has no intention of going quietly.
The Irishman is no stranger to controversy. He was banned from participating in the 1976 Olympics having raced in South Africa, under the name of Jim Burns, in contravention of the anti-apartheid sporting boycott in place at the time. But it is the unwavering support he offered Lance Armstrong which really undermined his position. A total of 149 riders have tested positive during his eight years as president, with three World Tour riders being anctioned last month.
Fans have grown tired of seeing McQuaid huffing and puffing at the head of affairs. Until now his feuds have been with anti-doping agencies AFLD, Usada and Wada, who have been openly critical of the UCI's efforts in the fight against doping. McQuaid has also derided, and even sued, those speaking up for a clean sport and clashed with race organisers and teams in what is in his view a power struggle for control of professional cycling.
Interestingly, McQuaid's powerbase in his native Ireland may have crumbled. Opposition has seen the Board of Cycling Ireland's decision to nominate him for president overturned, with an EGM ordered for 15 June to discuss the issue.
It is clear that some Irish cyclists are unimpressed with McQuaid's record at the top of the UCI. He considers Irish cyclists who oppose him to be activists with a narrow and negative agenda who have nothing constructive to offer the sport.
McQuaid is not prepared to wait until then to find out his fate at the EGM, deciding instead to sidestep matters by seeking the nomination of Swiss Cycling. As a Swiss resident he hopes they will be more forthcoming, although a legal challenge was this week launched to stop his nomination.
The arguments against McQuaid are not just about governance and doping, but also that the UCI have engaged in mission creep regarding globalisation. His detractors are also concerned about the level of public cynicism towards the sport and the governing body. It is their hope that an election which is contested will lead to real change.
Critics have correctly pointed out that were McQuaid the chief executive of a corporation and accountable to an executive board and shareholders, he would almost certainly have been forced to resign by now, given the battering the sport's image has taken recently.
But McQuaid clearly has no intention of departing without a significant push. Cookson has been warned.Reuse content