He’s barely a month into the job but so far the signs are good for newly elected UCI president Brian Cookson. As far as Anthony Tan can see there’s just one stumbling block – and for once, it isn’t to do with doping.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

The proposed new professional cycling structure, planned for a 2015 rollout and expected to be fully in place by 2020, is unlikely to include the Tour of Beijing, the final event on the WorldTour calendar wrapping up Tuesday outside the Bird's Nest stadium.

Instead of 153 scheduled race days on the 2014 calendar, the nouveau WorldTour, comprising sixteen first division teams and eight Div. II teams, will be capped at 120 days (50 days for Div. II). There will be no overlap between events, and no competition among first and second division events, so say the UCI.

The troika of Grand Tours alone, however, account for more than half the proposed race day limit. Add your classics/semi-classics Рfrom the UCI: "six weeks of uninterrupted competition focused on the Spring Classics" Рimportant stage races like Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, the tours of Catalunya and Basque Country, Romandie, Dauphin̩ and Suisse Рall to be truncated to five or six days Рand the competition to be included gets ratcheted up significantly. There's a distinct possibility races like the Tour Down Under, Poland, Eneco and Beijing may be demoted to second division Рor even Continental Рstatus. Which wouldn't be such a bad thing, because you would have Div. II and Continental teams racing WorldTour squads in search of more race days more often.

There's also the not-so-small matter of the UCI allegedly using WorldTour licence fees to underwrite the Tour of Beijing via their race promotions arm, Global Cycling Promotions, as asserted last month by former AIGCP (Association Internationale des Groupes Cyclistes Professionnels) president Jonathan Vaughters – yet still managing to incur at US$700K loss since its inception in 2011.

Anyway… that was the old UCI. For this year at least it appears Beijing was worthwhile. Not for the racing so much, but for the appearance of the governing body's tenth president from its foundation 113 years ago.

"The campaign to get to this point has been intense but I am under no illusion that the real work starts now," Cookson said on the farcical September Friday in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio, which eventually saw him dethrone incumbent Pat McQuaid by twenty-four delegate votes to eighteen.

Exit stage left, one aggrieved Irishman.

"I have said throughout my campaign that we must embrace a new style of governance and a collegiate way of working so that a new era of growth and commercial success for the UCI and our sport can begin.

"My first priorities as president will be to make anti-doping procedures in cycling fully independent," said Cookson, "sit together with key stakeholders in the sport, and work with WADA to ensure a swift investigation into cycling's doping culture.

"It is by doing these things that we will build a firm platform to restore the reputation of our international federation with sponsors, broadcasters, funding partners, host cities and the International Olympic Committee. Ultimately, this is how we grow our sport worldwide and get more riders and fans drawn into cycling."

So far, the 62-year-old former boss of British Cycling (1997-2013) has been a man of his word. The Monday after he was elected, he said he would call the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to re-engage in conversations with them. He did that, promising WADA alleged misconduct by the UCI under the governance of McQuaid and his predecessor, Hein Verbruggen, would be investigated – and this time, truly independently. Cookson added that his group has also been in touch with USADA, other national anti-doping organisations and the French Sports Ministry. In the next few weeks, he said, he plans to meet new IOC president Thomas Bach and Rio 2016 Olympics president, Carlos Nuzman.

Aside from McQuaid and Verbruggen, UCI heavies Christophe Hubschmid, the UCI's director general and a close confidante of the former, and Phillippe Verbiest, the UCI's legal counsel for nearly three decades and along with Verbruggen, McQuaid's sounding board during his rollercoaster eight-year tenure (2005-13), have both left the building in Aigle, Switzerland – a place where, during my five-year sojourn as a sports correspondent in Europe, I was invited – just once, in 2005 – to discuss my reporting of Tyler Hamilton's suspect blood values (but, funnily enough, was never asked back again). An external legal counsel, Antonio Rigozzi from Levy Kaufmann-Kohler, is now assisting the UCI.

Cookson also announced the UCI has dropped its defamation suit against Paul Kimmage, where it was claimed the former award-winning Sunday Times journalist and vociferous anti-doping campaigner had sullied the reputation of McQuaid and Verbruggen by calling them, among other things, corrupt: "Earlier this week I called Paul Kimmage to tell him that the UCI has withdrawn from the legal action against him," he said last Friday in China.

I have a good feeling about Cookson. I think the UCI's past practices will be thoroughly investigated, and the truth laid to bare. I think, before too long, administration of anti-doping will be handled independent of the UCI and various other national governing bodies. Governance and promotion are like oil and water. I think the relationship between the UCI and the sport's plethora stakeholders will be restored, and, by consequence, so will cycling's repute. "While he's not the charismatic and loud leader we are often used to seeing and he's clearly not a natural politician," Vaughters said of Cookson in his column on Cyclingnews, "he is someone who does not force his opinions, and what he does do is deliberately and methodically work towards the best solution for the people he represents, not just himself.

"Brian does his work, organizes and motivates the people he thinks will be best to accomplish the task, and then lets them get on with it. He objectively uses the best resources he has to solve a problem in the best way possible, whether he personally benefits from the solution or not. He is neither self-involved nor terribly interested in the glad-handing and small talk of politics. However, through subtle encouragement, he manages people. He leads the collective of talented people under him to find the best way forward."

To me, the greatest hurdle for Cookson et al remains women's cycling. Or, more specifically, improving said area.

Yes, Tracey Gaudry – our Tracey Gaudry – has been awarded one of three vice-presidential posts at the UCI, and, clearly, a large component of her mandate is to improve conditions for elite women cyclists. A good start has been the revocation of the 28 years old average age limit for women's teams, as well as a new commission aimed at boosting growth in women's cycling.

But last Sunday on Cycling Central TV, Rachel Neylan hit it on the head when asked what change would she like to see most: "I think a game-changer for women's cycling is going to be television coverage, and the UCI being able to help implement some (more) television coverage for us to help generate more sponsors in the sport."

Is that more important than a minimum salary, I asked Neylan.

"I think so. The only way we can get minimum salaries and get more funding into the sport is by attracting sponsors. And you can't attract sponsors without television – without staging great events." Cycling commentator Anthony McCrossan, who calls many women's cycling events and is genuinely enthused about elite cycling for the fairer sex, couldn't have agreed more with Neylan, when I sent out this tweet during the show.


So, TV it is. However outside of the road world championships, which is run by the UCI, how will the governing body convince already cash-strapped race organisers, a number on the brink of bankruptcy or, like ASO, monopolistic entities unto their own, to 1) run a women's race alongside a men's event, and 2) ask they broadcast and sell the TV rights, or give it away as a package, either live or as a delayed broadcast?

Simple solution – but far harder to execute. Over the next months and years, I'll be watching Cookson and Gaudry closely, to see what they can come up with.

"These early days are very important for the UCI," Cookson said from Beijing, emphasising he wants to "re-establish our international federation's reputation and make it the best and most respected in the world. I believe that we have made a good start."

So far, you'd have to agree. Keep cooking with gas, Brian.