Pat McQuaid defends Lance stance

AIGLE, Switzerland -- Pat McQuaid insists the Lance Armstrong doping affair should not be an issue in his bid to remain president of cycling's governing body.

McQuaid faces British federation leader Brian Cookson in the Sept. 27 election. In a race that appears tight, McQuaid seeks a third four-year term in the vote that coincides with the road world championships in Florence, Italy.

The Armstrong case fueled claims the International Cycling Union protected Armstrong from doping allegations during his Tour de France wins from 1999 to 2005. McQuaid, who became UCI president in 2005 after Armstrong first retired, said Monday the American rider and "issues related to him" should not affect the vote.

"I don't think he should be a factor," McQuaid said in an interview with The Associated Press as he began laying out his campaign Monday. "This election should not be about what happened 10 years ago. This election should be about cycling today and cycling tomorrow."

McQuaid listed key pledges in a 20-page document, "A Bright Future for a Changed Sport." He aims to "preserve the new culture and era of clean cycling," promote women's cycling and continue developing the sport outside its traditional European base.

As an IOC member since 2010, McQuaid also suggests cycling needs to maintain a voice within Olympic decision-making, including new medal events at the Summer Games.

Cookson contends he has the support of cycling officials dissatisfied with how UCI dealt with allegations about Armstrong's doping, which was finally detailed in a report by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency last October.

Cookson wants to improve the calendar of elite road races and women's professional cycling -- both recommended by UCI consultants Deloitte in May.

Then, McQuaid told the AP that UCI was working with the World Anti-Doping Agency to create an independent panel to examine longstanding claims that the governing body covered up suspicious samples from Armstrong, and how it accepted $125,000 in donations from the now-disgraced rider.

"I expect it (the audit panel) to be up and running before September," the Irish official said Monday, adding that he hoped Armstrong would "remain out" of the campaign.

McQuaid suggested that cycling officials worldwide were not as concerned with the Armstrong case.

"They see it as a scandal that has happened in the past," he said. "They are more interested in how they see the UCI developing the sport. That is the basis I am standing on and there is work still to continue."

McQuaid, who succeeded Hein Verbruggen of the Netherlands, says the first term consists of getting to know what the job is about.

"The second term, you start implementing things, and then if you get a third term you can see them through," he said.

The winner requires a simple majority in a secret ballot by 42 delegates divided among UCI's five continental confederations. The strongest opposition to McQuaid is likely to come from parts of Europe and the Americas, which have 23 votes combined.

McQuaid believes that a first week at the Tour de France with exciting stages watched by enthusiastic crowds backs his claim that the endemic culture of doping has changed.

"There is evidence from (race leader Chris) Froome and Dan Martin that you can win clean," said the UCI leader, who was in Corsica for the opening stages. "You see human performances now. Riders are up one day, down the next day. That is natural, that is human."

How to combat doping is an inevitable election issue: Cookson calls for UCI's anti-doping foundation to be fully independent. McQuaid says it needs only an independent board and a new office away from the governing body's headquarters, partly funded by top-tier teams.

One team manager, Garmin-Sharp's Jonathan Vaughters -- a former Armstrong teammate and witness in the USADA investigation -- reacted with frustration at McQuaid's plan to modernize TV production with "cameras on bikes and helmets, introducing GPS rider tracking and communicating real time data for race fans."

Vaughters wrote on his Twitter account that three years ago he received "threatening phone calls+anger over pushing for what the UCI now seek to own as their ideas."

McQuaid has raised tensions by calling Cookson's idea "half baked, fundamentally flawed and financially impractical." Earlier, he questioned Cookson's links to wealthy Russian cycling boss Igor Makarov in a strongly worded letter to national federations, which prompted the challenger to remark about "megaphone diplomacy."

"I asked questions which were pertinent questions. ... I don't call that bullying, that's politics," McQuaid said, adding that the presidency made him tougher, in battles with race organizers, team bosses and WADA.

"I'm not by nature an aggressive person," he said. "Verbruggen was known to be a tough leader, and I said coming in I would be the opposite. I wasn't long in in the job until I realized that it was just impossible."

Cookson responded Monday by reminding that Deloitte urged UCI to restore its own credibility and tackle the public perception of its leaders.

"It is my belief and that of many others that we need a complete change of leadership in order to successfully achieve this," Cookson said in a statement.

McQuaid said punishing him for the UCI's past should not be decisive.

"I would hope that it doesn't and I would think that it doesn't," he said.