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Brian Cookson’s leadership of world cycling has been “poor”, says the man challenging him for the International Cycling Union (UCI) presidency.
French candidate David Lappartient told BBC Sport that Briton Cookson was “not informed” and “lacked a clear vision”.
Cookson, who has been in office for the past four years, had hoped to be re-elected unopposed for a second term.
But his reputation has been dented by negative headlines about British Cycling, which he led for 17 years.
Cookson has strongly defended his record – though he has also been tainted by criticism of the country’s leading pro-cycling operation, Team Sky.
The man who left British Cycling to take the helm at the UCI stressed he has been a “consensus-based president”.
But, with the flagship Tour de France preparing for its finale this weekend, the race to be the sport’s most powerful figure is now heating up.
‘We need change’
Lappartient – the 44-year-old head of the European Cycling Confederation and a UCI vice-president – claimed Cookson had become detached from the day-to-day running of the organisation he leads.
“I think that we need some changes in the UCI, and specifically we need strong leadership, it is not at the level we were expecting,” he said.
“It’s a leadership without a clear vision about what we want to do with cycling.
“The president can’t be involved in everything, of course, but he must make sure things are happening, and the right people are in place.
“But at the UCI, the administration puts barriers around the president, so he is not informed of key elements of the organisation. I think that’s a fault of the organisation but it’s his responsibility.
“And when I read about the situation at British Cycling, it seems that the sport was far away from the board – that’s not the right way to lead.”
Lappartient said his concerns had often been ignored.
“I voiced my concerns over some points inside of the UCI, but they were not always taken into account.
“I’ve complained that the president has not been informed about some key points of the institution and that’s not normal… sometimes it’s important statements from stakeholders, sometimes financial points, and he has only one vision coming from the administration, and he must have information coming from everywhere.”
Cookson fights back
Lappartient said the president even once seemed unaware the UCI’s finance director had left.
In response, however, Cookson told the BBC the member of staff in question worked for the UCI’s chief financial officer, found a job closer to home and Lappartient simply found out before him because he had been away.
Cookson added: “I have always been a consensus-based president, both at British Cycling and now at the UCI. Collaboration is far more important than a dictatorial approach but the progress the UCI has made under my leadership is there for all to see.
“The UCI is not a small business and cannot be run that way. I promised in 2013 to have appropriate separation of governance and management, which is one of the reasons the UCI got into the problems it was in. I have delivered that.
“A big international institution needs a strong president and an effective director-general, which is what we’ve got now.”
What is in Lappartient’s manifesto?
Lappartient admits the UCI has made progress on tackling doping, promoting women’s cycling, growing the sport in new territories and improving its status within the Olympics, with extra cycling events added to the 2020 Olympic programme in Tokyo.
But he believes these areas can still be improved, pledging in his manifesto to overhaul the race calendar, ban corticosteroids, and cap team budgets to prevent teams from dominating the sport.
Lappartient also wants to ramp up the fight against mechanical doping.
“Our sport has suffered a lot with the image of doping,” he said.
“The UCI has done a great job for many years to have a better image… but regarding technological fraud, we know the industry is able to produce smaller motors, so we need to use X-rays, cameras, etc – this is something that appears in our sport.
“The UCI is doing some things but we need to be sure that we will use all the equipment and all the opportunities that we have to be sure that nobody will cheat with technological fraud. I hope and I think (the testing) is working, but I want to be sure that it’s working in all the cases and I’m not completely sure.”
Viewed as having a close relationship with powerful race organisers ASO, Lappartient insisted he was prepared to stand up to the French company.
The Frenchman believes he can gain the support of at least 23 of the 45 voting delegates at the UCI congress in Bergen, Norway, on 21 September.
“I know that some of the nations are disappointed with the situation and he [Cookson] won’t receive the same support he had in 2013.”
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