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Doping Scandals Cast Pall Over Cycling Group's Election


Let's stay in the Mediterranean for a moment because tomorrow, in the beautiful setting of Florence, Italy, the tarnished sport of elite cycling faces a crossroads moment, according to Brian Cookson. He's the head of British cycling and he's trying to win Friday's election for the President of the sport's international governing body, the UCI, as it's called.

Mr. Cookson is running against the incumbent, Pat McQuaid, who's tenure has been tainted by doping scandals. Here's NPR's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: At a press conference Wednesday in Florence, Brian Cookson had a message for the delegates who will cast their votes. The election isn't just about a possible change at the top. It's about saving a sport at its highest level.

BRIAN COOKSON: I want to make our sport one where people can admire their heroes without doubt. They can aspire to compete, to be a professional, even to win a tour or an Olympic gold medal and know that their friends will respect them and not question them.

GOLDMAN: Doubt and questioning have never been greater since Lance Armstrong's public admission of doping this year and his freefall from exalted status. Critics long have alleged that doping flourished under and was even covered up by two-term UCI President Pat McQuaid and his predecessor, Hein Verbruggen. Both men deny any allegations.

Cookson vows if elected to dig out of the muck by focusing on both the past and future. He wants to have a truth and reconciliation commission that would allow riders and others in the sport to tell all. Armstrong has supported the idea. He said recently, let's get it all out. Cookson also wants to take drug testing out of the UCI's hands and give it to an independent body.

COOKSON: These will speak greater than words and let's get that independent anti-doping agency established and then people can start to believe and trust in our sport once more.

GOLDMAN: One possible glitch in the election, the cycling federation's from the incumbent McQuaid's home country, Ireland, and the country where he lives, Switzerland, withdrew their support, so it's not certain if McQuaid has been nominated as per the rules. McQuaid is confident it will be resolved and that his widespread support, as he calls it, will earn him a third straight term.

Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on