McQuaid era over as new chief vows to heal wounds
Controversial UCI vote ends eight-year reign tainted by Armstrong drug scandal
Published 28/09/2013 | 05:00
Cycling finally began the process of "healing the wounds" of the Lance Armstrong era as Brian Cookson's extraordinary gamble paid off when he toppled Pat McQuaid as the most powerful man in the sport.
The Irishman's eight-year reign was brought to an abrupt end as Cookson was elected president of the UCI at the end of a day of both high drama and high farce that exposed the governing body to ridicule and demonstrated how desperately change was needed at the top.
Amid chaotic scenes at the magnificent Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, McQuaid was defeated by his bitter rival, the British Cycling president, by 24 votes to 18 in an election that for so long threatened not to take place.
That is because McQuaid – whose reputation has nosedived since Armstrong was exposed as one of sports worst ever dope cheats – arrived at the UCI congress with doubt having been cast on his eligibility to stand for re-election after he had his nominations from the Irish and Swiss federations revoked.
With the UCI having refused to allow the matter to be independently adjudicated upon, the meeting was reduced to interminable wrangling over whether a vote should be taken to determine the validity of McQuaid's candidacy – even though the item was not on the agenda.
The Irishman, who was chairing proceedings, eventually lost complete control of the floor after two UCI-funded lawyers spent an age trying to convince delegates he could stand.
Cookson then staged the most dramatic intervention imaginable, marching to the podium and declaring in presidential fashion: "We've had enough of this. I'm going to propose we go straight to the vote between the two candidates."
It was a display of leadership that had been lacking throughout a morning which had included delegates accusing their leaders of "changing the rules once the race had begun". "It's a masquerade," said the Algerian delegate.
Whether it had a decisive impact on the outcome is impossible to tell but delegates who had earlier voted 21-21 on a side issue relating to the election suddenly came down on Cookson's side.
Cookson said afterwards: "I wasn't confident, but I felt that I owed it to the cycling world to put an end to the misery that we were all going through, whether I won or lost, and I think people respected that."
The result signalled the end of one of the most controversial and acrimonious election campaigns of recent times in sport, one which threatened to tear the UCI apart. Having tried desperately to cling on to power, McQuaid was reduced to tears as he bade farewell to the organisation he had ruled for eight years.
"My wife has got her husband back and my children have got their father back," he said, before breaking down.
"They've elected a new president so good luck to the new president, good luck to the new management committee... I'm looking forward to a good holiday, which I badly need.
"I'll stay in cycling. I've been in it all my life. I'll find something. I'll find things to do, don't worry."
There was little sympathy for McQuaid, with Armstrong tweeting "Hallelujah" and the American's nemesis, Travis Tygart, describing it as a "monumental moment" for cycling.
United States Anti-Doping Agency chief executive Tygart accused McQuaid's UCI of attempting to disrupt his doping investigation "at every turn" ahead of what is set to be a fully independent examination of what the ousted president and others knew about Armstrong's activities. Cookson said both Armstrong and McQuaid – who has always denied any wrongdoing – would be invited to contribute to any truth and reconciliation commission.
He added: "I'm very confident that I can help cycling heal the wounds that it has inflicted on itself."
Cookson also announced a "constitutional review" to avoid the embarrassing scenes which marred yesterday's congress. "We can all agree that today was pretty disastrous for the reputation of cycling and the UCI. It was mishandled in so many ways," he said. That included the shock announcement from the ethics committee that Cookson was being investigated over allegations Greece was offered €25,000 to back him ahead of the election.
Cookson said: "I've never heard of anything so ridiculous. Of course, it's not true. It's nothing to do with me and that's not the way I do business."
With the election campaign having been marred by so many dirty tricks, it was impossible to differentiate smears from legitimate allegations. Cookson did promise to co-operate fully with any investigation, but he also warned that reforming the ethics committee was on his agenda. (© Daily Telegraph, London)