Brian Cookson has hinted that Lance Armstrong's life ban could be reduced if he made a full confession and helped expose other people who might have been involved in his doping during a truth and reconciliation process.
The UCI presidential candidate suggested that other athletes involved in the USADA investigation into doping in Armstrong's US Postal Service team had been "treated more generously" than Armstrong and said he would like to see a more level playing field.
Cookson is going head to head with incumbent UCI president McQuaid for the cycling's most influential role. Both accept that some form of truth and reconciliation process is needed to move forward after years of doping scandals but differ slightly on how the process should be carried out and on how people should be rewarded for confessing to doping.
The two are locked in a tense election battle, with the final vote due on Friday September 27 at the UCI Congress during the world road race championships in Tuscany.
Armstrong was offered a chance to confess to USADA and accept a shorter ban but refused to collaborate and was given a life ban and lost all of his seven Tour de France victories. He then made a partial confession on television as he tried to limit the legal and financial damage of the USADA investigation.
Cookson told the media during a conference call on Tuesday that there was "no room" for Armstrong in the sport but offered him an incentive to confess further.
“I’m not very comfortable with offering Lance Armstrong much hope for the future but I guess that wouldn’t be in my hands anyway – that would be in the hands of the World Anti-Doping Agency," the Telegraph reports Cookson as saying.
“Let me try to choose my words carefully: I think others have been treated more generously than he’s been treated and I would like a more level playing field. That doesn’t necessarily mean I want to see him back. I certainly don’t think there’s any room for him in elite cycling any longer but we’ll see what he has to say and I think if he’s got more truth to come out, as clearly he has, then I think he should tell that. But he would be looking for some incentive to do that.”
Further confession from Armstrong could clarify if the UCI, McQuaid and former UCI president Hein Verbruggen were in any complicit in Armstrong's doping. A series of allegation have emerged in recent months, with more apparently included in an explosive dossier or report funded by Russian Federation president and oligarch Igor Makarov. McQuaid has denied the accusations.
Cookson secured the backing of the 14 Union Européenne de Cyclisme (UEC) delegates on Sunday. A total of 42 delegates voted in the presidential elections. Oceania has also backed Cookson, promising their three votes, but McQuaid has the support of many of the African and Asian delegates, while the Americas votes are expected to be vital.
“I’m confident that I will get a vote that is at least in the high 20s,” Cookson said optimistically.
“Elections can be won and lost in the last few days and it’s very important that we don’t take any of that for granted.”
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.