UCI president Brian Cookson has blamed a culture of cover-ups within cycling's world governing body for undermining doping efforts and failing to bring disgraced former Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong to justice.

Cookson set up the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) in January last year to investigate the body's dealings with doping findings and allegations during the late 1990s and early 2000s, including its handling of claims against Armstrong, who later admitted systematic doping throughout the first part of his career and was subsequently stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.

Published on Monday, the report accuses former UCI presidents Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid of failing to follow their own anti-doping regulations and not holding Armstrong to the same rules that other riders were expected to follow.

Cookson highlighted an incident in the 1999 Tour de France in which Armstrong was allowed to have a therapeutic use exemption backdated - in clear contravention of UCI rules - as an example of favouritism shown towards the American.

Cookson told Sky News: "The UCI clearly prioritised at the time covering up and defending the so-called reputation of the sport rather than catching people who were cheating.

"This was a major error of judgement in my view, which led to a lot of problems for cycling.

"To add to that, another problematic element was the [1999] [Emile] Vrijman report which investigated allegations that Lance Armstrong's use of EPO - and it is clear from the report today that the UCI never had the slightest intention of that report being genuinely independent.

"Both of those things were very damaging and led to a very problematic era for our sport."

"The UCI clearly prioritised at the time covering up and defending the so-called reputation of the sport rather than catching people who were cheating" - Brian Cookson

The 227-page report accused the previous UCI leadership of major failings when it came to dealing with the enormous profile Armstrong brought to the sport.

"The UCI leadership did not know how to differentiate between Armstrong the hero, seven-time winner of the Tour, cancer survivor, huge financial and media success and a role model for thousands of fans, from Lance Armstrong the cyclist, a member of the peloton with the same rights and obligations as any other professional cyclist," the report said.

"This policy of offering favours and defending Lance Armstrong seriously harmed the UCI's image and credibility despite all the efforts and dedication of its employees to fight doping."

Armstrong released a statement shortly after the report was published in which he apologised for his actions and said he hopes cycling can move on to a "bright, dope-free future".

"I am grateful to CIRC for seeking the truth and allowing me to assist in that search," he said. "I am deeply sorry for many things I have done.

"However, it is my hope that revealing the truth will lead to a bright, dope-free future for the sport I love, and will allow all young riders emerging from small towns throughout the world in years to come to chase their dreams without having to face the lose-lose choices that so many of my friends, team-mates and opponents faced.

"I hope that all riders who competed and doped can feel free to come forward and help the tonic of truth heal this great sport."