Little more than a week after Chris Froome celebrated winning the landmark 100th Tour de France in what was supposed to signal the dawn of a new era, cycling was instead propelled towards civil war over an increasingly bitter battle to govern the sport.
Brian Cookson, the Briton attempting to oust Pat McQuaid, the incumbent president of the UCI, the governing body, accused the Irishman of embarrassing "an entire sport" and the organisation he runs of "attempted dictatorship" over a clumsy, blatant and belated attempt to alter the rules for the election.
Cookson complained furiously to Christophe Hubschmid, the UCI's director general, over the proposal to change the nomination process for September's presidential election more than a month after the original deadline, and accused McQuaid's complicated nomination of going against the UCI's constitution. "The efforts to change the nomination and electoral process are a clear sign of desperation from Pat McQuaid," said Cookson. "This latest twist appears to be nothing more than a fraught attempt to undemocratically and unconstitutionally impact on the process while it is under way.
"It is no wonder that many in the cycling family as well as fans and sponsors have lost faith in the UCI to govern ethically when the man at the top of the organisation is prepared to embarrass an entire sport in an attempt to try and cling on to power."
The combative McQuaid responded by insisting "no one has changed the rules, no one has broken the rules" and accused Cookson of being narrow-minded and looking only to promote the interests of British Cycling.
The original election process required candidates to be nominated by their home federations by 30 June. Cookson is supported by British Cycling, which he has led for 17 years, but there were complications to McQuaid's candidacy. The Irish federation withdrew its nomination after a vote by members. McQuaid has lived in Switzerland since he became UCI president in 2005, and has been nominated by the Swiss federation but that is being challenged in the courts. The case is expected to be heard in Zurich on 22 August. If it is overturned McQuaid would be without a nomination from either of his home federations and not able to stand for election.
But on Monday, Hubschmid contacted national federations revealing details of a change to the nomination procedure for the election proposed by the Malaysian federation and the Asian Continental Confederation, areas where support for McQuaid is believed to be strong.
The new proposals require a candidate to be nominated by two federations, not necessarily their home ones, before a new deadline of 30 August. Extraordinarily, the new proposals will be voted on at the same congress where the election will take place and applied retrospectively. McQuaid has the support of the Thai and Moroccan governing bodies – of which he is also a member – but Cookson, who met the rules as originally laid down, will need to find another backer, possibly USA Cycling, in case the new rules are agreed.
The 42-strong electoral college will vote on the election and the new proposals in Florence on 27 September during the World Road Championships.
Cookson is on the UCI's management committee and is angry the proposals were not discussed before being added to the agenda for September's meeting. "It is surely completely out of order to allow a proposal to change an electoral procedure once that procedure is under way," he said. "What sort of organisation attempts to rewrite the rules once an election has actually begun? It smacks of attempted dictatorship. It seems to me that, at best, all of this is bringing the validity and impartiality of the terms and conditions of the electoral process into serious question. At worst, this is beginning to look like a concerted attempt to manipulate the election in an undemocratic and unconstitutional way."
Mike Plant, the US representative on the UCI board and a Cookson supporter, is also contesting the proposed rule changes as "unconscionable, unethical, dishonest, unprofessional, manipulative and destructive."
McQuaid is seeking a fourth term amid growing clamour for change following the fallout from the US Anti-doping Agency's investigation into Lance Armstrong. During his tenure cycling has expanded globally and McQuaid has strong backing outside its European heartland.
"I have received enormous support from federations around the world urging me to stand for re-election," said McQuaid. "There was nothing stopping Brian Cookson from showing an interest in cycling around the world by joining other federations that would have allowed him to secure additional nominations when he decided to stand. I respect that his horizons, however, do not stretch much further than British Cycling and that his home is where his heart and ambitions as a presidential candidate lie."
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