Sunday, September 29, 2013

Biggest winners at world cycling championships? UCI, Brian Cookson


With the victory of Rui Costa in the UCI Road World Championship on Sunday, the cycling season has the feeling of finality. Costa defeated everybody's favorite bridesmaid, Joachim Rodriguez, by a whisker. The second-place finish was the third of note this season for Rodriguez, who also "took silver" in the Giro and Vuelta and was left in tears each time.

Likewise, Tony Martin's win in the World Time Trial Championship felt inevitable. Martin has gotten the best of Fabian Cancellara for the better part of two years. It's high time to declare Martin the pre-eminent racer against the clock. Even Cancellara seems to have conceded. The time trial remains near and dear to his heart, and he takes the losses hard. But he's expanded his repertoire to dominate in the one-day spring classics of Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix as well.

Cancellara finished third, with Sir Bradley Wiggins in second. You wonder how Lord Wiggins feels about his placement. The early part of his season couldn't have gone worse. He dropped out of the Giro because of injury, and despite being the defending Tour champions, he was cast aside by Sky in favor of Chris Froome, who fulfilled his promise by winning in France for Sky. Wiggins' second-place this week in Florence and his victory in the Tour of Britain earlier this month seems to have helped heal the wounds.

Both Wiggins and Cancellara have proven more versatile than Martin. Wonder how the oft-injured German will expand his repertoire. Or, if he cares to.

But the biggest victory for cycling was sandwiched between those of Martin and Costa, when Brian Cookson was elected president of the UCI. Cookson's victory signaled the end of the eight-year reign of Pat McQuaid, who has overseen nearly a decade of denial and bungling by cycling's governing body. You can make the case that cycling is the most tested sport in the world, and the improved procedures happened on McQuaid's watch. Problems with lack of transparency, especially regarding all things Lance Armstrong, dogged the UCI and doomed McQuaid.

The organization needs a fresh start at the top. Cookson already has appointed a new set of vice presidents. Let's see whether he can rise above the bureaucracy and establish good working relationships with the anti-doping authorites, the IOC, teams and riders. It's a tall ask.