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Opinion - Cookson: The zero communication strategy

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UCI Presidential candidate Brian Cookson

UCI Presidential candidate Brian Cookson (Image credit:
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UCI President Pat McQuaid at the UCI headquarters in Aigle

UCI President Pat McQuaid at the UCI headquarters in Aigle (Image credit: AFP)

On January 6, 2011, the short-lived team manager of Leopard-Trek, Brian Nygaard, made this comment: "I honestly think there's a lot of bullshit in cycling."

There's more to come with the election of the UCI president scheduled for September this year.

While many voices are calling for a change after eight years of governance from Pat McQuaid, citing corruption and conflicts of interest, candidate Brian Cookson gave a perfect example of someone who promises transparency but delivers the opposite when questions arise.

Asked by Cyclingnews about his opinion over the "closed league," or so called "Champions League" of cycling, for which businessman Zdenek Bakala signed a memorandum of understanding with the UCI, Cookson answered: "There are things we can do for Elite pro road cycling. I don't rule anything out. I don't rule anything in. We can find some solutions but we don't have immediate answers."

However Cyclingnews understands from different sources that Cookson has been encourages to put his hand up as a candidate by national federations from Belgium, France and Italy in order to strongly fight against the project of a "closed league", something that Cookson denied.

Given the opportunity to distance himself from Hein Verbruggen and the possible close connections the former UCI president has had with Lance Armstrong and his entourage, Cookson said: "I don't know Hein very well. He hasn't attended any UCI management committee meeting I've been to in the past four years."

Questioned by Cyclingnews about Verbruggen's role in setting up the Tour of Beijing and setting up various commissions in the past four years, Cookson admitted he knew about Beijing but answered the other part of the question by saying, "If he has had other involvements with the UCI, it's not with my knowledge or consent." This doesn't sound like a major change from the words of the current direction of cycling governing body.

Questioned by Cyclingnews if he's seeking a post as temporary UCI president before the UEC (European Cycling Union) president [David Lappartient] takes over in four years time, Cookson answered: "David is a good friend of mine." But he avoided the matter by saying that he has to be elected for a first term before thinking of a second one. Even though it won't be official until the UEC holds a meeting in mid-September, Cyclingnews understands that Cookson is the candidate supported by the UEC and the Oceania confederation while McQuaid is more popular in Asia and Africa. The PanAmerican confederation has yet to determine who is their champion in the race.

Cookson was adamant that he's "not manipulated by anyone" but admitted to have had "short conversations" with Jaimie Fuller and Antoine Vayer from the activist group Change Cycling Now. "I think it's important they contribute to future analysis," he added. Therefore, the 62 year-old is building his campaign on both sides of the story: the success of British Cycling and the suspicions voiced by Vayer over the performances of Team Sky. "No team is above scrutiny," he said when confronted to his contradiction.

As the first point of his program is to rebuild trust in the UCI, Cookson left the Radisson hotel in Paris without having convinced the reporters that he's the right man to do so. While people who back him criticize the UCI for having spent more than 3 million euros on the short-lived "Lance Armstrong commission," he has remained vague on a number of subjects. Advised by VERO Communications, Cookson has opted for a zero communication strategy, as he did on twitter on Saturday.

On March 10, 2007, also in Paris, the UCI introduced a "100% against doping" programme with a banner showing an image Danilo Di Luca. Six years later, Cookson chose the same city because that's where the UCI was created in 1900. On the brochure he distributed to the journalists the main rider on the biggest picture wore the colors of the Farnese Vini team, now called Vini Fantini - the team that have returned positive tests of Mauro Santambrogio and Di Luca. Same place, different speaker, same laughs.


Jean-François Quénet is a freelance sports journalist with 25 years of experience in covering cycling, including 36 Grands Tours. He has served as a media officer at three Olympic Games. Originally from France, he has a world wide view on the sport after having reported from America, Africa, Australia and Asia for different publications.