World Championships Week - Vos, Costa, Cookson Winners
There was a great week of racing - but not all the excitement took place on the roads of Florence.
As expected, Marianne Vos continued her dominance on anything with two wheels. A champion in cyclocross, track, and the road, Vos is truly one of the greatest cyclists ever. Of that there can be no argument.
Vos still had teammates with her in the closing kilometers and we all knew what was going to happen on the last lap - a strong attack on the final ascent that no one could stay with. Once she had the gap, Vos put her head down and time trialed to victory.
While the women raced under sunny skies, the men faced, at times, torrential downpours. As expected in these conditions crashes and near misses became frequent. An underdog favorite Cadel Evans crashed out as did Chris Horner. The entire British team didn’t finish and their national coach called it “a big disappointment.” Who could blame him when you had Bradley Wiggins, who was showing some form, and Chris Froome, who had stayed longer in Colorado after the USA Pro Challenge for altitude training.
At the end of the day that’s why it’s a sport, you just can’t be certain what can happen. The weather conditions can change, crashes happen, a case of “bad legs,” etc. In the end the men’s race still had a worthy winner in Portugal’s Rui Costa. Out manned in the final kilometers, Costa played it smart and let the Spanish riders of Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde do the heavy lifting - chasing back Italian Vincenzo Nibali. Costa could sit back and wait for his moment to strike.
While both Italy and Spain came into the world championships as favorites they were both denied. Sure Spain saved face with a silver and bronze, but in the world of professional cycling standing on the top step is all that matters. Mark Cavendish won the 2012 road worlds, but do you know, right now, who was second and third? That’s a little harder to remember.
After watching both the men’s and women’s races I can honestly say both were exciting. The last lap in the women’s race was filled with attacks. While we knew that Vos was going to attack, none of her competitors laid down arms and instead attacked and attacked. The men’s race was held under epic conditions that no one who raced on those Florence roads will soon forget. Like the women’s race, there were numerous attacks in the last laps and we had a nail biter of a finish - would Nibali stay away, was Costa going to catch Rodriguez and then outsprint him? Great drama!
While the weekend was saved for the marquee events of the world championships, another as equally important event had taken place Friday. Held in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, the UCI Congress was sitting down to elect their next president. This was but one of the agenda items that day, but the most important.
For many, professional cycling had been compared to a criminal organization with Pat McQuaid sitting at the head of the table surrounded by his cronies. There were reports of cover-ups and bribes. To take the drama to a further level Mike Plant, who is part of the UCI Management Committee, had a dossier that he claimed showed how McQuaid was running the UCI like his own little evil empire. The entire contents of this dossier still haven’t been made public, but were shown to McQuaid, and yet the Irishman still refused to vacate the UCI presidency. Let’s not forget his own country’s cycling federation wouldn’t back him, nor would the Swiss federation. McQuaid had to rely on the cycling federations of Morocco and Thailand for their support so he could even run for reelection.
As the congress argued about the legality of Morocco and Thailand sponsoring McQuaid’s presidential nomination, his only competitor in the election, Great Britain's Brian Cookson said, “Let’s have the vote right now.”
This was a very gutsy move because if Cookson had waited perhaps McQuaid’s presidential nomination by Morocco and Thailand would have been null and void. While Cookson seemed to be winning the election with the popular vote, the only votes that matter are from the cycling federations and more than one cycling insider had either told me or written that they believed McQuaid would get re-elected.
However, in a 24 to 18 vote, Cookson won the UCI Presidency - and the UCI Congress, without a blink, moved on to their next agenda item.
Naturally McQuaid’s ouster from power was met with much approval from many including Lance Armstrong who tweeted, “hallelujah,” to David Millar elaborating a bit further with his tweet, “Congratulations @cooksonforuci, or should I say, Mr.President. Please, tell Hein Verbruggen he's no longer welcome in the building.” Imagine the scene from the Wizard of OZ when everyone is dancing around singing, “ding dong the witch is dead” and you get the point. And yes, Hein Verbruggen is a flying monkey in this metaphor.
While this is a potentially exciting time in cycling let’s keep our emotions in check a bit. Cookson isn’t some new guy brought in because he can clean house. Cookson was a member of the UCI board during all the dirty days and never spoke up against McQuaid until he threw his hat into the presidential ring. Not to say he was meeting in dark underground parking garages to clandestinely receive cash payouts, but he wasn’t exactly fighting against McQuaid either.
Regardless, this is a new time in the sport - hopefully. Cookson has a lot of work in front of him to restore confidence in the UCI. Some pressing issues are as follows: To address women’s cycling in a serious manner. McQuaid had made some insensitive comments that women’s cycling didn’t deserve a minimum wage because it hadn’t matured. There’s also the matter of how do we clean up the ongoing doping issues. Cookson has called for a “truth and reconciliation” meeting and has invited Armstrong if this meeting ever takes place. Would the disgraced cyclist be able to truthfully answer any questions put to him? That is indeed the million dollar question. He has numerous people lined up to take him to court, so I’m still a bit leery on how much Armstrong would be willing to disclose as that could affect any pending legal suits.
These are just a couple of issues that Cookson must contend with. Really it comes down to the fact that the central point of the UCI must be run professionally - something that has been lacking for many years. Prior to UCI President McQuaid there was Verbruggen, a man whom strong data suggests he was conveniently turning a blind eye to the institutionalized doping going on within teams.
These first couple of months will be telling as we see if Cookson’s manifesto is something more than a public relations campaign. Also, to really invoke change Cookson needs to sweep out the Old Guard of McQuaid’s lackeys. Meticulously.
So Mr. Cookson, I wish you good luck. Be aware that many are watching and you have a great opportunity to reshape the sport into something so much better.
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