Cookson versus Lappartient: A race too close to call?

23-22 vote predicted by several experts

On Thursday morning the 45 UCI delegates will meet in Bergen to cast their votes in the presidential election in what many are now labeling a race too close to call.

Incumbent Brian Cookson and his only challenger David Lappartient of France have been on the campaign trail for months, both laying out similar manifestos, attacking each other, and lobbying for votes across the globe.

The UCI election is held via an electoral college system, with 185 member federations represented by five confederations that select 45 voting delegates. The Union Européenne de Cyclisme, currently headed by Lappartient, has 15 votes, Africa, Asia and Pan-America each have nine, while Oceania has three. A simple majority is enough to win the election, meaning whoever secures 23 votes is the next UCI president.

The 2017 election is a far cry from the mayhem of four years ago when Cookson beat Pat McQuaid in a bitter election that had several Machiavellian twists and turns. However, the 2017 version is just as important and will decide who governs the sport for the next four years.

On the eve of the election, Cyclingnews spoke to several well-informed individuals who have played important roles in the election outcome and have a good understanding of the voting trends that could play out on Thursday in Bergen.

Perhaps the most important piece of information is that the 15 European delegates have been granted the freedom to vote individually. This could be key to victory. In 2012 the European delegates voted as a block and backed Cookson, giving him a firm foundation for victory. This time Cyclingnews understands that it is Lappartient who has strong support in Europe. However, the news that delegates can vote individually could suggest that Cookson has retained more support in Europe than originally thought.

Several influential sources have predicted that Lappartient has a slender lead at this stage and that the victory could be decided by one vote and end 23-22. It's believed that Asia, with its nine votes, is likely to back Cookson, while Panamericana, Oceania and especially Africa are either split or too close to call.

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Both Cookson and Lappartient will give final speeches on Thursday morning before the election but at that point, the delegates will have decided their votes, possibly after final meetings with representatives of the candidates overnight.

On Wednesday evening both men attended the presentation of the 2018 Innsbruck World Championships courses, and both reiterated that they were confident of victory.

"I know where I am but I don't want to make any specific comments on this point but I remain convinced about my possibilities to win," Lappartient told Cyclingnews before holding a brief huddle with several federation leaders.

"I hope it will be in my favour but I don't know about the gap. The most important thing is to win. I'm confident that I have enough to win though."

The fact that European delegates are free to vote is somewhat of a surprise given that Lappartient was the head of the UEC. Many would have expected - if he had their entire support - for him to push for their unanimous backing but during a meeting on Wednesday it was decided that they could vote individually.

"They're completely free to vote. We had a meeting with them today. They're free to vote how they want. They trust me. Supported me as the president of the UEC and I think they will continue to do this as the President of the UCI."

On Saturday, after arriving in Bergen, Cookson told Cyclingnews he felt he was substantially ahead. However, he appeared to have toned down his optimism in the final hours before the vote. There were clear signs of despondency in his camp.

"Who knows how it will go, it's a game right to the end. We'll see what happens," Cookson told Cyclingnews before working the room of delegates, Federation presidents and other political figures at the Innsbruck presentation.

"My feeling is that I'm still ahead. I don't think there's been substantial shifts one way or the other in the last few days. It's just speculation until they open the box and count the votes. I've got strong support from all parts of the world. I don't want to add any details about that. However, I'm confident I'll win."

If defeated, Cookson would be the first ever president of the UCI to only serve one term.

"I'm a positive thinking kind of person. I've got plenty of things going on in my life but I want to build on the progress we've made in the last four years and believe we've got some great times ahead of us," he said.

"If I lose, I think it'd be a blow for the sport. I don't want cycling to go backwards. I think that would happen if my opponent was successful."

Who the 45 election delegates represent:

  • Union Européenne de Cyclisme, currently headed by David Lappartient, has 15 votes (up from 14 at the last election)
  • Confederation Africaine de Cyclisme, currently headed by Mohamed Wagih Azzam, has nine votes (up from seven votes four years ago)
  • Asian Cycling Confederation, currently headed by Hee Wook Cho, has nine votes (the same as 2013)
  • Confederacion Panamericana de Ciclismo, currently headed by José Manuel Pelaez, has nine votes (the same as 2013)
  • Oceanian Cycling Confederation, currently headed by Tracey Gaudry, has three votes (the same as 2013)

 

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