Oleg Tinkov blog: Cycling existed before me and will exist after me

Tinkoff owner reflects on the Tour de France in his farewell blog

The Tour de France is over it’ll soon be time to put out the candle on the Tinkoff team and end my time in professional cycling, so before I go, I wanted to share my thoughts and emotions of the Tour de France in what will probably be my last-ever blog for Cyclingnews.

The Tour was a stressful three weeks and so now I’m looking forward to enjoying some holidays just like everyone else. I’ll be in Forte dei Marmi, Tuscany for much August, riding my bike in the sun and enjoying time with my family like a normal person.

We won and we lost but I’m definitely happy with our Tour de France. We lost Alberto because of his crashes but we still had a great Tour: three stage wins and three days in the yellow jersey. We had 66 per cent of the final podium on the Champs-Elysees with Rafal Majka winning the polka-dot jersey and with Peter Sagan in green again, and as the most aggressive rider.

Peter’s extremely powerful and what he did this year is crazy. How long will it continue? I don’t know. He’s very strong but is also at his limit. I don’t think he’ll stay at this level for 10 years but for sure it’s a great investment for Bora. I met the guy from Bora and now it’s time for him to play with cycling like a toy.

I’d agree that the Tour was quite boring this year but at least we animated the race. We were the only ones to try do something whenever we could. I think we were one of the best teams in the race and that’s even without Alberto being there. Imagine if Alberto had been in the race and taking on Froome?

I’ve said this before at the Tour and I’ll repeat it again: the only rider who could have beaten Chris Froome was Alberto Contador but I think he’s missed his chance. I hope we can see them go head to head again this year, perhaps at the Vuelta a Espana. I hope we can have a déjà vu like in 2014, when Alberto crashed out of the Tour but then won the Vuelta, beating Froome. We need to win it if we want to secure the best team in the UCI rankings, so that we can have a huge farewell party in Abu Dhabi.

I really admire Alberto but in my humble opinion he should stop his career this year because he’s at the top now and can’t get any better. I believe carrying on his career with Trek-Segafredo for another two years is a mistake. He can still win the Vuelta but I doubt he will ever win the Tour again. This year was his last chance. He’s obsessed about winning the Tour, so am I, but I’m able to judge things rationally and I know it’s the right time to stop. I believe it’s the Froome era now and for the next two or three years, and so there’s nothing much anyone can do to beat him and Team Sky. That’s why I’m taking a couple of years out of the sport.

More on this story:

Team Sky is currently unbeatable

To understand why Team Sky is currently unbeatable, just look at the money they have and how they use it wisely. They have an investment of around €10 million riding alongside Froome and helping him win the Tour de France. I have about €2 million to do the same role for Alberto. That’s a huge difference when it comes to building a team. Dave Brailsford can afford to buy anyone to make Team Sky stronger, and so make his rivals weaker.

The budget is the key and if I had 35 million instead of 25 million, I’d try to beat him but it’s not an easy task. Froome and Team Sky are at their very best now, so I believe we have to wait until he gets older and some new guys come along before trying. Maybe riders like Esteban Chaves, Fabio Aru or perhaps even Russian rider Ilnur Zakarin can challenge him in a few years time but Froomey is likely to win the Tour again, perhaps even a few times, before anyone else does.

I don’t believe in Nairo Quintana. I don’t know why but he doesn’t convince me, he didn’t even launch a single real attack. Adam Yates looks good but he is too strong too young and riders like that often burn themselves out quickly. Let's hope for him it's not the case. Romain Bardet did well this year but I think we can forget about him. I don’t honestly think a French guy will win the Tour for the next 20 years. That’s my opinion anyway.

Speaking of the French, during the final days of the Tour I spoke to Christian Prudhomme and Yann Le Moenner, the bosses of ASO. We fought for some years and I tried to take a piece of their cake away but now I’m leaving things are different.

I told them: ‘Guys, I’m quitting cycling this year but I’ll be back when you create a real pro league.’ I told them to buy the Giro d’Italia and run pro cycling like US sports are run.

At the end of the day, the Tour is a great product. I told them they can create a French-style global cycling league but that they need to stop showing the race for free on television. It’s a very socialist way of doing things. Instead they should sell the rights to TV channels such as Eurosport, Sky or Bein to make some real money. If they share some of that money with the teams it will make a sustainable way of doing business and make the sport even better to watch for the fans.

They actually agreed with me. And so I think it’ll happen, it’s a matter of time.

Mickey Mouse teams

Time heals wounds and I’m sure I’ll come back to the sport sooner rather than later. Give me a couple of years. I’m really tired and need a break from it all. I want my July back, too. I haven’t had a July for the last four years. My dream is to go to Norway to see the Fjords; it’s something I’ve never done.

Of course my return depends on several factors: the state of the sport, my financial situation, and how Tinkoff Bank is doing. We’re the biggest digital bank in the world with five million clients and so maybe we’ll expand out of Russia and into Europe. Then we’d have more marketing visibility and cycling would be a great way of getting it.

I definitely haven’t given up on pro cycling and I will be back one day. I’d like to come back and build the best team in pro cycling again and try to win the Tour de France. One factor why I’m leaving the sport now is that there’s nobody out to beat Froome at the Tour, so why would I fight just for second place.

Look at teams like Cannondale or Trek, that have put a lot of money into cycling without any real results. They’re Mickey Mouse teams. They’re a disaster. They make it easier for Sky to win. Trek has a billion dollars in sales and so should be doing better. I did better and achieved more with less money. They really should call me or call my team manager Stefano Feltrin – who I think is the second best manager after Dave Brailsford, and we’ll help them build a better team.

Jonathan Vaughters suggested to Cyclingnews that I’m a victim of my own sword by paying Peter Sagan €4.5 million and so inflating the rider market but I think people should know that I offered him Sagan’s contract for 2017 but he turned me down saying it was way too expensive. Now Peter has signed with Bora for €6 million. So he should eat humble pie now because he doesn’t understand the importance of a rider like Peter. It would have been great for the Cannondale brand too but that proves that former riders don’t make good team managers. I know that Vaughters did a Masters or something but it clearly didn’t help him. There’s a reason why Dave Brailsford looks outside of the sport to find his marginal gains. He hires former riders but only as directeur sportif. He lets them drive the team car but keeps them out of the boardroom.

I have a good relationship with Dave now. I’ve actually got a lot of respect for him. At the start of the stage to Morzine all the Team Sky riders and Dave came off the bus to thank me for investing in cycling. They said that we pushed them hard and that without us trying to beat them they wouldn’t be as good as they are. I appreciated that. When the best manager in the sport says that, it’s a sign of the good work you’ve done.

Their thank you made me reflect on my time in professional cycling and I’m not afraid to admit I was close to tears. But fuck, life goes on, and the show must go on without me. Cycling existed before me and will exist after me.

Thank you everybody for the last few years, it’s been a lot of fun but it’s time for me to move on.

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