Seeking re-election amid fallout from the Lance Armstrong doping affair, UCI President Pat McQuaid believes the high-profile case should not be an issue in the campaign for the leadership of cycling’s world governing body.
McQuaid’s opponent, British federation leader Brian Cookson, has offered cycling a fresh start after the damaging case fuelled claims the UCI protected Armstrong from doping allegations during his 1999-2005 run of Tour de France wins.
McQuaid, who became UCI leader in 2005 after Armstrong first retired, said Monday the American rider "and issues related to him" should not affect the September vote.
"I don’t think he should be a factor," McQuaid said in an interview with The Associated Press as he launched his campaign manifesto Monday. "This election should not be about what happened 10 years ago. This election should be about cycling today and cycling tomorrow."
McQuaid’s key pledges in a 20-page document, "A Bright Future for a Changed Sport," include to "preserve the new culture and era of clean cycling," promote women’s cycling and continue developing the sport outside its traditional European base.
As an IOC member since 2010, McQuaid also suggests cycling needs to maintain a voice within Olympic decision-making, including adding new medal events at the Summer Games.
Cookson claims support from cycling officials dissatisfied with how the UCI dealt with allegations about Armstrong’s doping, which was finally detailed in a report by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency last October.
Cookson’s manifesto also committed to improve the calendar of elite road races and women’s professional cycling — both recommended by UCI consultants Deloitte in May.
Then, McQuaid told the AP that the UCI was working with the World Anti-Doping Agency to create an independent panel to examine longstanding claims that the governing body covered up suspicious samples from Armstrong, and how it accepted $125,000 in donations from the now-disgraced rider.
"I expect it (the audit panel) to be up and running before September," the Irish official said Monday, adding that he hoped Armstrong would "remain out" of the campaign.
McQuaid suggested that cycling officials worldwide were not as concerned with the Armstrong case.
"They see it as a scandal that has happened in the past," he said. "They are more interested in how they see the UCI developing the sport. That is the basis I am standing on and there is work still to continue."
McQuaid seeks a third four-year term in office at the UCI’s election congress on Sept. 27, on the sidelines of the road world championships in Florence, Italy.
"The first term is only just getting to know what the job is about," said the former UCI road-race commission chairman, who succeeded Hein Verbruggen of the Netherlands. "The second term, you start implementing things and then if you get a third term you can see them through."
The winner requires a simple majority in a secret ballot by 42 delegates divided among the UCI’s five continental confederations. The strongest opposition to McQuaid is likely to come from parts of Europe and the Americas, which have 23 votes combined.
McQuaid believes that a first week at the Tour de France with exciting stages watched by enthusiastic crowds backs his claim that the endemic culture of doping has changed.
"There is evidence from (race leader Chris) Froome and Dan Martin that you can win clean," said the UCI leader, who was in Corsica for the opening stages. "You see human performances now. Riders are up one day, down the next day. That is natural, that is human."
How to combat doping is an inevitable election issue: Cookson calls for the UCI’s anti-doping foundation to be fully independent, and McQuaid says it needs only an independent board and new office base away from the governing body’s headquarters, partly funded by top-tier teams.
McQuaid has raised tensions by calling Cookson’s idea "half baked, fundamentally flawed and financially impractical." Earlier, he questioned Cookson’s links to wealthy Russian cycling boss Igor Makarov in a strongly worded letter to national federations, which prompted the challenger to remark about "megaphone diplomacy."
"I asked questions which were pertinent questions about his manifesto," McQuaid said. "I don’t call that bullying, that’s politics."
"I’m not by nature an aggressive person," he said, adding that the presidency made him tougher, in battles with big race organizers, team bosses and WADA. "Verbruggen was known to be a tough leader, and I said coming in I would be the opposite. I wasn’t long in in the job until I realized that it was just impossible."
Cookson responded Monday by reminding that Deloitte urged the UCI to restore its own credibility and tackle the public perception of its leaders.
"It is my belief and that of many others that we need a complete change of leadership in order to successfully achieve this," Cookson said in a statement.
In an election contest which appears tight, McQuaid said punishing him for the UCI’s past should not be decisive.
"I would hope that it doesn’t and I would think that it doesn’t," he said.