BERNE (Reuters) - Pat McQuaid has lost Switzerland's backing for his bid to be re-elected as head of cycling's governing body, leaving the Irishman in what his rival Brian Cookson described as "a very difficult position."
The Swiss cycling federation confirmed on Wednesday that it had withdrawn its nomination for McQuaid, who failed to gain backing from his own federation, for political reasons.
The incumbent still has the backing of the Thailand and Morocco federations, however these have become the subject of controversy after the British cycling federation suggested the nominations were made after the deadline stipulated by the electoral rules.
"Swiss cycling's executive committee has.... for political reasons withdrawn its nomination for Pat McQuaid's re-election as Internacional Cycling Union (UCI) president," said Swiss Cycling in a statement.
Challenger Brian Cookson, head of British Cycling, replied with another strongly worded statement after another twist in the bitter campaign.
"This latest development is of real significance to the presidential election process," said Cookson, the only other candidate.
"It leaves Mr McQuaid in a very difficult position, particularly when viewed alongside his failure to receive a nomination from his own national federation as required under the constitution of the UCI.
"It also places further question marks against his other 'nominations' whose validity is in serious doubt and remain a matter of genuine concern to many in the cycling world.
"No attempts at manipulation and legal bluster can take away the doubts and questions.
"The important principle in any democracy is that you must respect the rules as they are, not how you'd like them to be. My hope remains that we have a democratic process based on the rules of the race when it started rather than those made up half way through."
McQuaid, in office since 2005 and bidding for a third mandate, has described suggestions that the nominations were not valid as "outrageous."
On Tuesday, the UCI said that global law firm Baker and McKenzie had confirmed that it followed procedures correctly.
"The opinion from the Geneva office of Baker and McKenzie confirmed that the nominations of Pat McQuaid by the national federations of Morocco and Thailand had both been properly submitted to the UCI before the deadline for submissions," said a UCI statement.
Cookson has based his candidacy on restoring trust and credibility in the UCI as the organisation struggles to deal with the aftermath of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal and allegations it did not do enough to catch the American, who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles last year.
McQuaid has already described Cookson's election manifesto as "half-baked, fundamentally flawed and financially impractical". The election is scheduled to take place in September.
(Editing by Patrick Johnston)