FLORENCE, Italy (AP) — Cycling's governing body took another step toward clearing up its doping-tainted past by electing a new president who hopes to usher in a new era of transparency.
One of his first challenges will be getting Lance Armstrong to come forward and fully explain how got away with doping for so long.
Brian Cookson won a heated vote Friday to become president of the UCI, defeating incumbent Pat McQuaid after a contentious election in the wake of the Armstrong scandal.
The British Cycling president defeated McQuaid 24-18 in a secret ballot, after which Armstrong quickly issued a one-word tweet that said, "Hallelujah."
Armstrong has previously indicated he would be willing to talk to any so-called "truth and reconciliation" commission, which Cookson wants to set up to encourage riders, team officials and others with knowledge of cycling's doping past to come forward.
"Well I'm always pleased to hear that anyone is happy about my being elected, whoever it may be, Lance Armstrong or any other cycling fan around the world," Cookson said.
He added that setting up such a commission will be among his first tasks.
"We need to have a structure in place as quickly as possible," Cookson said. "Lance Armstrong is obviously one of those people who will be invited to contribute to the process once we've established that, and I'll certainly be seeking to do that as quickly as possible."
Steve Johnson, the CEO of USA Cycling, said he would also push Armstrong to come forward.
"Absolutely. I would encourage Lance to be part of the solution, instead of part of the problem," Johnson told The Associated Press. "And the best way to be part of the solution is to come forward and participate in a truth and reconciliation process.
"It's absolutely critical that we get it all on the table and move forward."
Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles last year and banned from the sport for life after acknowledging that he doped. Multiple legal cases are still pending against the Texan from the fallout of his admission but Johnson indicated that talks are under way to possibly free Armstrong of some of them if he divulges how he got away with it for so long.
So far, Armstrong has only said he doped — without explaining how he did it, or who helped him.
"I'm not part of them but I have heard that there are (talks)," Johnson said. "I would imagine with USADA (the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) and with WADA (the World Anti-Doping Association)."
McQuaid was first elected in 2005 and was seeking a third-four year term despite accusations that the UCI covered up Armstrong's doping during his tenure.
"That's life, that's the way it goes. Congress has decided," McQuaid said. "They've elected a new president so good luck to the new president, good luck to the new management committee. ... I'm looking forward to a good holiday, which I badly need."
The UCI election followed months of bickering between the two candidates, and a drawn-out dispute over whether McQuaid even had a valid nomination.
McQuaid's home country, Ireland, and Switzerland, where he lives, withdrew support in the wake of the Armstrong affair and he ran with nominations from Thailand and Morocco instead.
The UCI congress spent hours debating McQuaid's status inside the historic Palazzo Vecchio on Friday, until Cookson finally stood up and said: "We've had enough of this. I'm going to propose that we go straight to the vote between the two candidates."
Cookson needed a simple majority of the 42 grand electors but a victory was hardly assured.
"I wasn't confident," Cookson said after the congress. "But I felt I owed it to the cycling community to end the misery that we were all going through, whether I won or lost."
An earlier vote linked to McQuaid's status had finished dead even, 21-21.
"I think people respected that and that's the way I like to operate, the way I like to do business," Cookson said. "We had heard all of the arguments, we were going around in circles and it was clearly time to just put the matter to the vote."
Even McQuaid appreciated the way Cookson ended the debate.
"I think it was a good thing to do," the outgoing president said. "We gave an election and we got a result."
Cookson vowed to immediately set up an independent anti-doping commission. And he has warned that team managers who have been tied to or admitted doping during their careers as athletes could no longer have a place in the sport.
USADA, which issued the key report on Armstrong's doping operation, hailed the vote outcome.
"The outcome of the UCI election sends a powerful message that sport leaders who fail to fully protect the rights of clean athletes and the integrity of their sport will be held accountable," USADA said in a statement. "The UCI tried to obstruct our investigation into doping in cycling at every turn, and then after the release of our reasoned decision the previous leadership failed to take necessary and decisive action to fully clean up the sport."
USADA added that "the election of a new UCI President who is committed to transparency and a new direction, is a monumental moment for the sport and demonstrates that when clean athletes stand up for their rights they will be heard."
The 62-year-old Cookson announced that as a result of the vote he was stepping down as president of British Cycling, which he has led since 1997.
While wishing his defeated rival well, Cookson also indicated that McQuaid may be called in to an eventual inquiry into cycling's past.
"Yes I would ask Pat and anyone else to fully cooperate in any investigation that is put under way," he said. "And I'm sure that Pat will want to cooperate as fully as possible."
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