Brian Cookson has already announced his candidacy for the UCI presidency and many expect France’s David Lappartient to follow suit in the coming months. While a two-horse race to Aigle’s seat of power looks the most likely scenario, there is growing sense that a third hat could be tossed into the ring.
Step forward Tom van Damme, the president of the Belgian federation, and president of the UCI’s road commission. He, like a number of his colleagues, is currently attending the Tour Down Under in Australia, but whereas many of the UCI management committee form a silent collective, Van Damme’s potential bid for power is gaining momentum.
At present he is reluctant to announce a candidacy, instead, and perhaps wisely, he is waiting for both Cookson and Lappartient to unveil their manifestos, but the Belgian has told Cyclingnews that he is not ruling anything out until June, at the latest. He is aware of the rumours that he might stand, but for now he is waiting.
"People are asking me to stand and there are rumours that I’m going to stand, but the decision hasn’t been taken," he told Cyclingnews.
"I will certainly wait until after the Classics, and if I have a good feeling from Brian over the next four years, then it’s possible that I’ll support him. That’s something I’ll discuss with him. People have asked if I can stand, because they think I would be a good candidate and that’s always nice to hear."
Van Damme was elected to the UCI management committee four years ago, and stresses that he has a good relationship with both Lappartient and Cookson. He remains on the fence, and admits that he will talk to both men about their visions for the future of the UCI before making a decision. Cookson, it must be remembered, backed Pat McQuaid in January of the election year of 2013 only to change his mind by June. The fluidity of the current situation dictates that almost anything could play out in the coming months.
"An election year is always a special year. It’s also a fact that as well as the Presidential election you also have the election of the management board and the different continent. It all plays together. This all means that people are nervous and of course that there are rumours," he says.
"If you have elections, of course you have rumours. Until now the only thing that’s certain is that Brian is a candidate. The two meetings of the management board, one in January and one in June, will be very important. Depending on those meetings, that will be time when we will see if other people stand.
"I expected that David would stand four years ago and he didn’t do it. I think that he’s doing a really good job as President of the UEC. It was, let's be honest, not really existing, and he made something of the UEC. I’ll have a discussion with him in the next four months."
Lappartient was unable to travel to Australia this week due to problems surrounding his visa, however Van Damme and Cookson were able to share a bike ride on Friday. The current president, who has stated his campaign for re-election hasn’t started, has told Cyclingnews that he will seek Van Damme’s support.
"Brian has done some remarkable things, but where I think we can develop further is in the WorldTour," Van Damme says.
"We need to re-evaluate our strategy and come back with something stronger. It’s not just Brian, but I think that we made too many compromises in the WorldTour and when you have too many then it harms the soul and the vision."
The volatile state of the WorldTour is certainly going to be a central theme to this year’s election. Cookson has seen Lappartient lay the groundwork for an election bid by attempting the undermine Cookson’s authority with a number of actions. Call it testing the waters, but it has clearly angered Cookson, who when asked five times on Thursday if Lappartient was loyal, chose to use the word ambitious instead. Cookson even went as far to suggest that Lappartient should wait another four years before standing.
"There’s a lot at play with the changes in the WorldTour," says Van Damme.
"I think we need to go further, and I expect a stronger UCI with more strategy. If Brian is working on this and I feel it’s good, then anything is possible.
"But I’ve always had a good relationship. France and Belgium have a working relationship on a regular basis. I have a good relationship with Brian too. I want to keep that with both of them."
The question for now is whether Van Damme actually wants to be president or whether he is seeking to hitch his wagon to a better ticket. When asked if wanted the top job, he remained on the fence.
"That’s a hypothetical question and I can’t answer," he said. "I’m very happy with my role as the president of the road commission and certainly as the president of the Belgian cycling federation. I’m vice president of the Belgian Olympic committee, so I feel fine in my role. I could stay like this also."