UCI President Brian Cookson has urged potential rival David Lappartient not to stand against him for the UCI Presidency and instead wait another four years when the Frenchman could potentially have an unopposed run at the position.
At a press conference dubbed 'coffee with Cookson', held at the Tour Down Under, the current president was asked about a variety of topics including the election, WorldTour reforms, Jiffy bags and sexism allegations at British Cycling during his tenure.
At almost every turn Cookson, who has already announced that he will stand for re-election this autumn avoided yes or no answers, instead adopting an ultra-cautious approach.
When asked five times whether his vice-president and potential opposition for the presidency, David Lappartient, was loyal, Cookson started out by only praising the Frenchman's work at for his national federation. Finally, on the fifth attempt, all of which came from Cyclingnews, Cookson replied by stating that, "David is an ambitious young man and he might decide on being a candidate at some stage."
The relationship between the pair has been tense over the last 18-months with Lappartient's ties to the French federation and ASO at times undermining Cookson's attempts to reform the UCI calendar. The Cookson election camp fully expect Lappartient to stand later this Autumn, although the Frenchman was forced to cancel a planned trip to Australia this week due to complications surrounding his travel visa.
Cookson did, however, break rank by suggesting that Lappartient should hold back from standing this year.
"If I was him," Cookson said, "I'd wait another four years as he would probably have an extremely good chance and wouldn't be opposed."
Cyclingnews understand that other potential candidates, such as Belgium's federation head, Tom Van Damme, will wait until June to decide if he will throw his hat into the ring. At this stage it is conceivable that Cookson, Lappartient and Van Damme could set up a three-horse race, however, Van Damme has told Cyclingnews that he will wait for Cookson to lay out his proposed manifesto before making a final decision. The Belgian also told Cyclingnews that he has been urged by several individuals to stand.
"Tom Van Damme is an excellent president of the Belgian Federation and the UCI road commission," Cookson said.
"If he decides to stand then that's a matter for him."
When Cyclingnews asked if Cookson could persuade his colleague to effectively step away from the contest and endorse him, Cookson said, "Yes. Well, we'll have to wait and see. That's a question for him. We'll ride together tomorrow and perhaps I'll ask him them."
UKAD, TUES and accountability at British Cycling
Although the wheels of Cookson's election campaign roll into motion he has several distractions to deal with. The long investigation into the culture within British Cycling during his tenure has yet to be published, while UKAD are still digging into potential wrongdoing at British Cycling and Team Sky after a British Cycling employee transported a medical package from Manchester to the 2011 Dauphine for Bradley Wiggins. The contents of the package was reportedly Fluimucil, although no paperwork has been provided to back this up. The package was transported by Simon Cope, although he told Cyclingnews last year that he travelled through international customs without having knowledge of the package.
The first question delivered to Cookson at the press conference was whether he packed his own suitcase when travelling to Australia but more serious was the matter of whether he would be willing to appear in front of British MPs leading the enquiry.
"That's an ongoing enquiry and it's probably better that I don't comment at the moment. As far as I'm concerned, I was not aware of any day-to-day operations of that nature. But I'm sure everybody involved behaved appropriately. We'll see what comes out of the enquiry.
Asked by Cyclingnews if he had been invited to provide evidence, Cookson said no contact had been made but that he would be willing to appear. "Of course, not that I could tell them anything. The chairman of the board doesn't know what goes on with everything that's mailed out from the office. I'm confident that the people involved behaved appropriately."
Asked again by Cyclingnews if he found it staggering that Cope had no knowledge of the package, Cookson responded: "A lot has been made of that but teams are constantly on the move and they're constantly having things taken to them and taken back. It's not surprising that this happened. We'll see what the audit trail reveals about what was in the package."
"Why would I know what was in the package that was delivered from A to B in 2011. Thousands of objects are delivered all the time.
"It's not my responsibility anymore. You're hinting at this and it's a bit of a conflict for me so I'm keeping out of it. It's a matter for UKAD to investigate and if they ask me I'll cooperate with them."
Cookson confirmed that he had given evidence via phone in relation to the independent investigation into the culture within British Cycling.
The investigation was launched in April 2016 in the wake of allegations of sexism and bullying against the then Technical Director Shane Sutton. British Rowing chairman Annamarie Phelps led a five-person committee, who have since handed their findings to UK Sport and British Cycling.
"I've made a contribution and was asked by Annamarie Phelps to make a contribution over the telephone. I'm happy to await the outcome."
"Elite sport isn't always a comfortable place to be. A results orientated philosophy can sometimes be difficult for those involved but by in large I'm confident that British Cycling behaved appropriately at the time."
Cookson would not disclose information regarding his evidence but when asked about the allegations relating to sexism he went on record with the following:
"Like I said, elite sport can be an uncomfortable place to be. It's results orientated. I don't want to comment on any individual concerned. There's a balance there and people respected the responsibilities to other people and their behaviour as well. As part of what was reported to me as president and chairman of the board, I was always satisfied that everyone was taking their responsibilities seriously.
"When you start off in elite sport, you start off with a large number of individuals and at every stage there's not only success and progress but some rejection is built in. Frankly, some people, many of us, with human nature we don't like rejection and we look for other reasons sometimes."
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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