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As the battle for the UCI presidency heats up, we take a look at what's going on

Joseph Delves
22 Jun 2017

With similar stated aims to the incumbent president, why is David Lappartient standing? The answer could be as simple as power and money

Announcing his candidacy in the upcoming UCI presidential election David Lappartient released a statement bullet-pointing what his priorities would be as leader.

His promises to ‘make cycling a sport of the 21st century’, ‘develop an ambitious vision for the professional sport’ and ‘ensure the credibility of sporting results’, ‘protect athletes’ and ‘promote the development of women's participation’ were all fairly uncontentious.

In fact there so far appears very little to differentiate him from the incumbent president Brian Cookson. So why bother standing?

In a recent campaign video Lappartient expanded on the need to reform pro level racing, gain greater influence within the Olympic movement and combat betting related fraud.

All worthy aims, but there’s likely another reason that Lappartient is standing, and it relates to the battle for influence between two groups within the UCI.

For all its attempts to expand, pro cycling’s heartland remains Europe. It’s where the most famous races are, and it’s still overwhelmingly where the money is.

The Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) owns the majority of the historic events in the cycling calendar, including the Tour de France, Vuelta a España, Liège–Bastogne–Liège, Paris–Nice, and Paris–Roubaix.

The various WorldTour and Pro-Continental teams rely on these races for exposure, and therefore the ability to generate sponsorship.

For years the teams and ASO have been squabbling over how to divvy up the money generated. Recently many of the teams have banded together to try and get a bigger share of the television rights: 12 of the 18 WorldTour teams formed the Velon group, in an attempt to put pressure on ASO.

They even went so far as to launch their own events, called The Hammer Series. Many of these squads are also in favour of reforming the racing calendar, which currently obliges UCI WorldTour teams to send riders to an increasingly packed schedule of races, including novelties like the now defunct Tour of Qatar, which is owned by ASO.

The UCI is therefore responsible for obliging the teams to attend sanctioned races which are owned by private operators.

Both teams and ‘stakeholders’ such as ASO are represented at the UCI’s Professional Cycling Council (PCC), which is headed by presidenital challenger Lappartient.

It’s ultimately the PCC which sanctions the WorldTour calendar each year.

Cookson had recently sided with the teams looking to reform the calendar, so as to oblige them to race fewer of ASO’s events.

However it’s been reported that the radical reforms Cookson had proposed were shot down within the PCC before they were put to a vote.

Even at the level of the UCI Management Committee, which ultimately makes the organisation’s decisions, Cookson enjoys less than full support.

The battle for the UCI leadership is therefore potentially a proxy war between the group of WorldTour teams seeking reform, and race owners and the smaller group of WorldTour teams that are more broadly aligned in their aims.

These teams are thought to include Astana and Katusha-Alpecin. Astana have previously clashed with Cookson, who had attempted to have the squad’s licence revoked in 2015 following allegations of doping.

While Igor Makarov, who is the boss of the Russian Cycling Federation and therefore a member of the UCI Management Committee, is also the owner of the Itera company that sponsors Katusha-Alpecin.

The company also funds the European Cycling Union, the organisation of which Lappartient is currently head. Clearly there are a lot of vested interests at play on both sides.

So far Cookson’s tone towards his rival has been pointedly cordial.

‘I note that so far David Lappartient has not set out very much detail in his plan or any vision he may have beyond his well-known personal ambition for the role,' Cookson said in response to the announcement of a challenger.

'I look forward to debating what matters for the future of cycling over the coming months,’ he added in a recent statement.

Yet the rumblings of the coming confrontation between two men have already stirred Lance Armstrong to endorse Lappartient.

The disgraced former champion tweeted ‘ABC (Anybody But Cookson)’, while his former manager Johan Bruyneel also spent the past few days berating the current UCI President on twitter.

With Bruyneel serving a decade long ban handed down by USADA, and Lance being Lance, it’s unclear how welcome their joint endorsements will be.

Weighing in against Lappartient, Cannondale-Drapac team manager and Slipstream Sports boss Jonathan Vaughters was typically forthright.

‘Lappartient = ASO meat puppet. Hugely negative for athletes and teams,’ he tweeted.

Vaughters, who was instrumental in setting up the Velon group and has long campaigned to reform the racing calendar, claimed that the current system which makes it hard for teams to secure long term investment is partly to blame for doping.

A theory he put to Lappartient in an extended exchange.

With the appearance of cordiality already slipping, the election looks likely to be played out in the typically brutal and secretive style of the UCI’s internal contests.

With Cookson previously having appeared likely to be re-elected unchallenged recent questions relating to his time at British Cycling mean prospective candidates will likely have sensed an opportunity.

Investigations into allegations of bullying and corruption at British Cycling covering the time during which Cookson was in charge have proved damaging.

As has Damian Collins MP, the former chair of the Culture, Media, and Sport select committee, who stated that Cookson should not be re-elected.

Complicating matters is the fact that while this scrap is uniquely European in nature, the UCI’s electorate is international.

The President is elected by The Congress, which is made up of delegates from the various international federations.

Africa, America, and Asia have nine delegates each, while Oceania has three, and Europe fitteen. The voting takes place in secret.

With federations outside Europe having little interest in the baroque internecine conflicts that are likely at the centre of the contest, the prospective candidates will need to appeal directly to their unique concerns.

Former president Patrick "Pat" McQuaid proved adept at doing this, and it may be what Lappartient had in mind when he appeared to suggest devolving greater powers to the individual federations.

The election will take place at the UCI Congress in Bergen, Norway, which coincides with this year's World Championships held on 21st September.

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