By Steve Tongue
LONDON (Reuters) - Brian Cookson, facing an election challenge for his presidency of cycling's governing body the UCI, launched a strong defence of his stewardship on Friday and said he expects to win another four-year period in office.
He believes he has greatly improved the “disastrous and controversy-ridden” organisation he took over in 2013 and will continue to do so, especially in the areas of anti-doping, women's cycling and inspiring participation in the sport.
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The 66-year-old Briton beat Irishman Pat McQuaid in the last election and was hoping to be unopposed this time.
He is being challenged, however, by UCI vice-president and European Cycling Union president David Lappartient from France, who Cookson described as having been “the leader of the opposition for some time”.
The Frenchman announced his candidacy last month, 24 hours before the deadline.
“The restoration of UCI's credibility was an absolutely essential step, given the disastrous state of our reputation at the time, and I think we've made great progress,” Cookson told a news conference.
“I worked very quickly to rebuild relations with the World Anti-Doping Agency at every level and we are now a highly trusted partner within the anti-doping community.
“People have to believe and trust in our sport. I set about rebuilding the integrity of it because we suffered a lot of reputational damage. German television had actually stopped covering the Tour de France and four years ago we were threatened with being removed from the Olympics.”
He pointed to a new ethics code, strengthening the UCI's financial position and growing cycling worldwide, with a record number of nations at the Rio Olympic Games and the development of the UCI Women's World Tour, with equal prize money.
His manifesto includes continuing the global development of cycling, “keeping an eye on the ball with anti-doping” and “using the elite level of cycling to inspire people to get on a bike for health benefits."
Criticised publicly by his predecessor McQuaid, who called him “a fraud”, and by the disgraced former world champion and seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, Cookson said: “I don't want their support. (Their criticism) is the best possible endorsement of me.”
The vote among 45 delegates will take place on Sept. 21 during the UCI road world championships in Norway.
“I think I have substantial support from all (geographical) areas,” Cookson said. “Do I think I'll win? Yes.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)