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by Dave Everett
October 12, 2015
Photography by Cor Vos
Days after media reports stated that former team owner Bjarne Riis was attempting to buy back the Tinkoff-Saxo squad, Oleg Tinkov has said that he is open to bids on the team but he believes that Riis doesn’t have the necessary finances.
“He never contacted me,” Tinkov told CyclingTips, speaking on the final day of the Abu Dhabi Tour.
“I don’t think he has money. He has wishes, obsession probably to come back to cycling, but it is his personal business. I don’t know. He never approached me.
“Once he has the money he can call me, we will talk. But I think it is just talk, no money.”
Asked if he was still enjoying being a team owner, he said that making money out of cycling was a goal of his.
“I do [enjoy owning the squad], but I still believe that [making money] is what I am trying to achieve,” he answered.
“I am trying to do cycling like a business, I am a businessman. If someone comes to me with the amount that is greater than the amount that I paid to Riis, I would definitely consider to sell and to make money. I am a businessman, I have sold four businesses before. I have set them up and sold them.
“If I get more money, I can sell. However, I can continue to enjoy it as the owner. I can look. Why not? It is a business. If someone writes me a cheque, why not?”
Tinkov has been one of the most vocal owners in cycling about the need for the sport to be more profitable. He has regularly said that the current sponsor-driven economic model is neither satisfactory nor sustainable, and has said that race owners such as ASO need to share the proceeds.
ASO has thus far refused to do so, leading to some pointed comments by Tinkov on social media.
His comments about this subject reveal frustration with what he sees as a lack of resolve. “I am trying to do that but I don’t have a lot of effort [influence – ed.] to change it myself alone. It should be a collective group. I tried to get a group through Velon and through some team owners such as Cannondale, Sky, Orica, etcetera.
“We will see where it goes. It seems like I am outspoken, I am trying to push the things, but the rest are not really there.”
He said that without commitment on the part of others, the current stranglehold can’t be broken.
“I fear that ASO will still dominate the space. I believe it is very bad for cycling, it is not healthy for the sport. Cycling needs to be changed but I don’t see real people like myself with the big balls who can come and do something. They are all chicken.”
The problem, he says, is that many say they are for change, but won’t get sufficiently behind what needs to be done.
“As I said the owners of Orica, BMC, Cannondale – they have the same vision. And when you talk behind the curtains with Astana, Katusha etcetera…but when it comes to the action, when you have to go and push UCI and ASO, they don’t really want to do it, they are afraid.
“That is why I don’t see it moving somewhere, unfortunately. Maybe Velon can change the situation? It all needs to change. But it is just rhetorical now to talk about what we need to do. Everyone knows. It is very simple. There should be a different source of income for teams, that is it.”
Tinkov’s frustration is evident, and his willingness to consider offers to buy his team is clear. For the moment, though, he’ll continue owning one of the biggest squads in the sport. He said that there are things for him to look forward to next season.
“We are good. We will have the world champion’s jersey for 2016. We will have the Russian champion’s jersey with Yuri Trofimov. We will have Alberto Contador, who will try to win the Tour de France. I think we are very well set. We have a strong team.”
Contador has said that 2016 will be his final year. Who does Tinkoff see as potentially stepping up after that?
“We have Rafal Majka. He is the rider that we will really try to develop into a Grand Tour rider,” he answered. “Beside that, we don’t need anyone else. And I don’t see any good ones that are available anyway.
“I think Aru could be good, but he has signed for Astana.”
One year ago Tinkov was pushing hard for the sport’s general classification contenders to take on the triple challenge of the three Grand Tours.
Alberto Contador was alone of the top names in trying the Giro d’Italia/Tour de France double, but was well off his usual level in the second race. As was the case for him in 2011, and for other riders since, it proved to be impossible to mount a strong challenge in both races.
One year on, Tinkov appears to have cooled to the idea. Asked if he still wanted the sport’s big names to take on the Grand Tour challenge, his enthusiasm for that was gone.
“I don’t know. I don’t care, to be honest,” he said.
“It is their business, not my business.”
Additional reporting by Shane Stokes