FLORENCE, September 27 – New world cycling chief Brian Cookson is hoping disgraced Lance Armstrong can play a key role in a ‘truth and reconciliation’ process and help heal the wounds of the troubled sport.
Cookson beat incumbent Pat McQuaid to the presidency of the International Cycling Union (UCI) after a turbulent election process on Friday.
While the 62-year-old Englishman expects full cooperation from McQuaid in the event investigations are launched into alleged corruption within the world body, Armstrong could be one of Cookson’s first ports of call.
Armstrong’s confession that he had doped throughout his career, in the wake of being handed a lifetime ban from the sport a year ago, hit cycling’s already fragile reputation hard.
But on Friday the 42-year-old American reacted positively to Cookson’s victory, posting a simple ‘Hallelujah’ on his Twitter feed.
Cookson’s campaign was built around his call for an anti-doping body which is independent of the UCI, partly because of allegations that McQuaid and former UCI chief Hein Verbruggen had colluded in the past to hide doping positives.
But he also wants former drugs cheats to help launch the process of “healing the wounds cycling inflicted upon itself”, and immediately welcomed Armstrong’s endorsement.
“I’m always pleased to hear that someone’s happy I’ve been elected, be it Armstrong or someone else,” Cookson said.
“Lance Armstrong is obviously one of those people who will be invited to contribute to the process once we’ve established that and I’ll certainly be seeking to do that as quickly as possible.”
Cookson, who took up his post immediately and gave up the presidency of British Cycling he has held since 1996, took 24 votes to McQuaid’s 18 from the 42 delegates.
It capped a long and frustrating day in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio where McQuaid, in power since 2005, had initially failed to gain nomination and tried to push his way through by using lawyers to exploit loopholes in the UCI constitution.
The election descended into near farce before Cookson lashed out: “Alright, we’ve had enough of this. I’m going to propose that we pass straight to the election.”
It was a key moment, and he later explained: “I wasn’t confident but I thought we owed it to the cycling world to put an end to the misery we were all going through, whether I won or lost.
“People respected that, and that’s the way I like to do business.”
Determined to restore cycling’s reputation as well as change the UCI’s management structure, Cookson wants to right past wrongs.
While wishing McQuaid “well in whatever he goes on to do”, the Irishman could be investigated following the publication of a secret dossier, compiled by Cookson ally Igor Makarov, which contains damning allegations against him.
McQuaid has flatly denied the allegations, but when asked if he would be pursued, Cookson said: “I would ask Pat and anyone else to cooperate in any investigation that gets underway.”
Makarov, the president of the Russian cycling federation, is part of the UCI management committee but has been accused, by McQuaid, of bankrolling Cookson’s campaign.
And there are beliefs the Cookson/Makarov alliance should also face scrutiny.
Makarov, a former cyclist turned billionaire businessman, founded the Katusha cycling team, which briefly lost its UCI racing licence at the start of 2013 due to financial discrepancies and the team’s poor doping record.
When asked about a potential conflict of interest with Makarov, Cookson said: “I have nothing to hide, nor will I have anything to hide.
“Makarov is an important person in cycling, he’s the president of the Russian Federation, he’s a member of the management committee and he deserves respect as well.
“In terms of investigating any team, that’s exactly why we have to have a totally independent, non-UCI body.”