Is Oleg Tinkov really quitting pro cycling?

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MONTPELLIER, France (CT) – Although Oleg Tinkov insisted at Wednesday’s Tour finish in Montpellier that 2016 would be his final year in WorldTour cycling, a lack of clarity exists as to his intentions.

Earlier in the Tour the Russian said that he would reverse his decision to leave the sport if Peter Sagan won three stages in the race. He was reminded of this by TV journalists after Sagan notched up win number two in Montpellier.

“If he wins one more stage, then we talk about it,” he responded. “The Tinkoff team is the best, we are always winning. What’s new?”

However seconds later, while speaking to other journalists, Tinkov seemed to do an about-turn.

“I believe that Peter has already signed with Bora or something,” he said, when asked if he was having second thoughts. “There are many people criticising me that I inflated the price. For example, Vaughters said that I was the one who opened this price war. But in fact I know Peter signed for much more money than I am paying him now.

“That means that there is still interest in cycling. Peter has signed with Bora and there is no opportunity for me to stay now.”

Tinkov was critical of Sagan early last year after the-then new signing was unable to win big races. The Slovakian went on to take the Tour of California, to net another green jersey in the Tour de France and to win the world road race championships.

This year he has been very impressive, clocking up eight victories including the Tour of Flanders and two Tour stages. As a result the Russian has become more appreciative of Sagan.

“He is simply the best rider for me,” said Tinkov on Wednesday. “He is the most popular, he has charisma and character and that is what cycling needs.

“I am obviously enjoying my last year being with the team and I am enjoying having such a rider like Peter Sagan. I will remember him, for my kids and my family I will have some photos…for me, it will be a great memory to have sponsored him and been his boss for a couple of years.”

That sounds categorical, but there are inconsistencies. Earlier this week a source close to the team told CyclingTips that Tinkov had talks with team employees on the rest day in Andorra, asking them if they would consider doing another year.

In the press conference after his stage win on Thursday, Peter Sagan was asked about his future and if he and the team might continue working together.

“You know, we was speaking with Oleg and if La Datcha is going well, we remain with La Datcha.”

La Datcha is the name of Tinkov’s holiday villas in Courchevel and Val Thorens. The project has featured on the Tinkoff team kit and the Russian has been displaying it prominently during the Tour.

Tour de France stage 11

It is unclear if Sagan was revering to the current Tinkoff team as La Datcha, or if the latter could become the new title sponsor of the squad. Either way, his comment suggests 2016 might not be the last season there.

CyclingTips sought clarification from Tinkoff press officer Pierre Orphanidis at Thursday’s stage start in Montpellier. He was told what Sagan had said and was asked if it was possible that the squad could continue.

“You never know, you never know,” he replied.

Given that Tinkov had indicated that Sagan’s availability would be crucial, CyclingTips then asked Orphanidis if the Slovakian had already signed a contract elsewhere.

“You know I can’t say that before August 1st,” he responded. “That would be breaking the rules.”

Given the mixed messages, it’s impossible to draw a firm conclusion at this point in time. Tinkov is well known for playing the media for publicity, but the rest day negotiations and Sagan’s comment at the end of Wednesday’s press conference seem to clash with his insistence he is walking away.

Time will tell if he is serious about leaving, or simply stalling before a big announcement.

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