News feature, January 24, 2007
Every professional team is obliged to throw a team presentation, where sponsors are able to meet riders and drink and dine on the team's dime. But few squads throw quite as elaborate a party as the new Tinkoff Credit Systems team did in Rome this week. Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown was there to experience the deluxe gathering.
Tinkoff Credit Systems held its 2007 team presentation Tuesday night in the Eternal City of Rome. The Italy-based team, backed by Russian bike enthusiast and businessman Oleg Tinkoff, was on display at a swanky jazz club amongst celebrities, including Formula One driver Jarno Trulli, and two AS Roma footballers, Alberto Aquilani and Rodrigo Taddei, but more important were the cycling dignitaries such as Italian national director Franco Ballerini and the President of the Italian cycling federation (FCI) Renato Di Rocco.
The team is a Professional Continental team and will have to rely on wild card invitations to the big races, and since the team's goal will be participation in Giro d'Italia, and other Italian ProTour races, it was very good signal that Giro d'Italia director Angelo Zomegnan was present, since he will be the key to their Giro invitation. "We will have 18 ProTour teams and four wild cards," said Zomegnan to Cyclingnews Tuesday night. This means that two ProTour teams will be left at home, while opening the doors for more Professional Continental teams that have a strong desire to race the Giro, like Tinkoff Credit Systems.
"Look at Oleg Tinkov. He is a very smart man. He has made all the right moves..." -Giro organizer Angelo Zomegnan explains why attended the Tinkoff presentation
Zomegnan traveled from Milan to be at the event. "This is the only presentation I will attend this year," he said, confirming his admiration for the owner. "Look at Oleg Tinkov. He is a very smart man. He has made all the right moves, signing on one of the greatest Italian bike companies, holding the presentation in such a fancy venue, the best team cars and even the good taste in clothing he is wearing [Colnago team bikes, German Mercedes team cars and Italian suits for the evening. There was plenty of caviar personally imported by the team from Russia, accompanying a delicious dinner - ed.]."
The rift between grand tour organizers and the ProTour should help Tinkoff's chances in the Giro. Zomegnan noted his differences with UCI president Pat McQuaid and said the two were definitely not talking after recent "Mafia" comments by the Irishman. "You could really see his soul with those remarks."
On a mild Roman night, Tinkoff opened its doors to Zomegnan and it is likely he will do the same for the new team come May, when the Giro starts from Sardegna. "We will announce the teams three months prior [February 12]."
These were important words for Oleg Tinkov, who poured much of himself into creating the squad. The Russian, who got his start in the beer industry, is taking his passion for the sport and creating a team to compete at the highest level. Last year was the Tinkoff debut, as Tinkoff Restaurants; a small Russian Continental team, based in Spain, which was mostly made up of young track riders. The owner himself was a member of the team, and, at the age of 38, even competed in some races.
2007 saw a huge change. In the fall of last year the news surfaced that Omar Piscina's Team LPR would change sponsors while joining forces with the Russian team. Oleg took business matters in hand, gave up racing, and set about signing top riders like Tyler Hamilton, Salvatore Commesso and Danilo Hondo, adding to LPR's riders like Daniele Contrini and Elio Aggiano.
Successful in the business world, Oleg has made some smart moves which should see him progress just as wisely in the European peloton. Piscina, only 30 year-old, will lead the Italian-Russian outfit through the season of races. Contrini, with Piscina since 2004, confirmed Oleg's smart move.
"In the 12 years I have raced professionally, I have never had another manager like him," said Contrini. "He is young but he is very smart, and what he says he will do, he does. If he says we will leave at this time, then we will leave at that time."
The director sportifs carrying out Piscina's orders will be Orlando Manini, Dmitri Konychev and Claudio Cozzi. All were in Rome, called up on stage by the lovely Lucia Blini. After she first introduced Team Manager Stefano Feltrin and Piscina, she then called on the four directors sportif, noting Konychev's long career in racing which led seamlessly to his role as director.
Team staff on stage, it was the turn to bring out the 18 riders for 2007. A mix of young Russians, including track stars like Mikhail Ignatiev and Nikolai Trussov, two Germans, Italians, one Spaniard and, of course, American Tyler Hamilton. The full team lineup:
Tyler Hamilton (USA), Elio Aggiano (Ita), Pavel Brutt (Rus), Ilya Chernetsky (Rus), Salvatore Commesso (Ita), Daniele Contrini (Ita), Danilo Hondo (Ger), Sergey Klimov (Rus), Mikhail Ignatiev (Rus), Ruggero Marzoli (Ita), Anton Mindlin (Rus), Evgeni Petrov (Rus), Ivan Rovny (Rus), Alexander Serov (Rus), Ricardo Serrano (Spa), Nikolai Trussov (Rus), Steffen Weigold (Ger) and Vasil Kiryienka (Blr).
One of the team's biggest signings during the off-season was American Tyler Hamilton. "It is exciting to start with such a group of young riders [the majority of the Russians - ed.] that are eager to learn," explained Hamilton, who, along with Danilo Hondo and Salvatore Commesso, will be one of the team's experienced rider and will act as a guide for the younger members.
Hamilton had spent a long winter in Boulder, Colorado, but even longer was the time away from cycling due to a two-year suspension. His desire to comeback and grab race wins was underlined by Contrini. "I think that he really has a desire to start racing again," explained Contrini, who has spent about four weeks of training camp time with the American. "Almost like he is angry inside and he wants to hit out at the world. His mind is focused on the bike and nothing else. Like all the grand champions."
Hamilton continued, "It was cold this last year in Bolder, more snow than we have ever had before. I did not mind, for me it was fun. I would mount special snow tires on my mountain bike and go out and ride." Hamilton, at 35 years-old, talked with the excitement of a neo-pro; looking forward to 2007 he added, "I will start at the [GP d'Ouverture La] Marseillaise, Tirreno-Adriatico in March. I have heard about the opening team time trail there, it should be a good race."
He confirmed his participation in other races in France, including the Méditerranéen Tour, and did not rule out La Classicissima. "I would not disagree to racing the Milan-Sanremo; for sure it would be great training, at six to seven hours. Since Hondo is not racing, the dynamics of the [Sanremo] team could change and I might race," he continued. Though not racing the Tour of California, Tinkoff will be in the USA for the Tour of Georgia, where Hamilton confirmed he will participate.
"Of course I will take a break in July, which will be strange for me, never having done that before, but it will allow me to come back again after the Tour and ride a different schedule."
Along with Hamilton, the team was looking tan and ready to race, after a gorgeous week in Tuscany for training. Hondo will have to wait longer to start, until the end of March, due to a decision by the Swiss courts. He will miss out on his favourite race, the Milan-Sanremo, but perhaps it will provide greater motivation for later events. "Everyone is hungry for competition," explained the German sprinter to Cyclingnews, who is based in Switzerland, near Lugano. "Look, I will miss the races in March, like Sanremo, but I have worked for two years and two more months won't be much. Maybe it will be even better overall; I will be ready for the following races, while some of the riders might already be tiring."
He confirmed the successful camp that ended a day before the presentation in Marina DI Grosseto. "It was great working with the Russians; there are some strong riders with lots of track background. We have to work on our communication more but it is getting there. Over the course of the camp we often practiced lead-outs. They do a great job but have they will need to be ready in race situations, where a lead-out is much different.
Salvatore Commesso, transferring from Lampre-Fondital, confirmed Oleg Tinkov's enthusiasm. "I first met him in September at his office in Milan; right away I could see that he was a great guy," Commesso noted genuinely, "A very good person that really likes cycling. I had heard he raced up until last year. [His love for the sport] it creates a great atmosphere, and I have found a good atmosphere here and now it is up to me to repay them."
Commesso will form part of the team that will travel to Malaysia for the team's first race in 2007, the Tour de Langkawi, February 2 - 11, while a second group, including Hamilton, will head to France for the GP d'Ouverture La Marseillaise on February 6.
As a Pro-Conti team, Tinkoff Credit Systems will be under pressure earn the attention of race organisers in order to get invitations, but Commesso was confident they'd succeed. "We have to start the season strong, to make a good impression," he said, "Then the organisers can see our results and that will make an impact for this new team. I have trust in the team, that we will be able to race these events."
A full listing of the team can be found on the Cyclingnewsteams database.
President: Oleg Tinkov (Rus)
General Manager: Stefano Feltrin (Ita)
Team Manager: Omar Piscina (Ita)
Director Sportifs: Orlando Manini (Ita), Dmitri Konychev (Rus), Claudio Cozzi (Ita)
Doctors: Fulvio Susanna (Ita), Loris Confortin (Ita), Gianpaolo Benini (Ita)
Masseurs: Claudio Lucchini (Ita), Giorgio Pascucci (Ita), Kastytis Mazenis (Ltu)
Mechanics: Maurzio Bergamaschi (Ita), Zydrunas Ragelskis (Ltu), Nardi Gianni (Ita)