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Exclusive interview: Tinkov talks about Twitter, doping and his dislike of team managers

By:
Stephen Farrand
Published:
October 25, 2013, 17:30 BST,
Updated:
October 25, 2013, 18:16 BST
Edition:
Second Edition Cycling News, Friday, October 25, 2013
Tinkoff team owner Oleg Tinkov at the race.

Tinkoff team owner Oleg Tinkov at the race.

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Russian businessman ready to create his own team for 2015

Oleg Tinkov has revealed he is likely to create his own team for 2015 after negotiations with Cannondale about team ownership ended without an agreement.

The Russian businessman has successfully floated his Tinkoff Credit Systems credit card business on the London Stock market, boosting his personal wealth by several hundred million pounds.

He confirmed to Cyclingnews in this exclusive interview that he is ready to invest up to 15 million Euro a year of that money into cycling but wants direct control of his investment.

"Right now we're not talking to anyone. I imagine after this interview some people will call me because a lot of teams are really desperate for cash, but right now I don't want to sponsor a team, I want to own 100 per cent of a team," Tinkov told Cyclingnews from Thailand where is on vacation with his family.

"If someone out there wants to sell their team, they should call us and call my Italian lawyer Stefano Feltrin, but I don't want 55 or 75 per cent, I want 100 per cent of the structure. Tinkoff Credit Systems is ready to fund a long term project, I'm talking about a three- to five-year project. We're ready to spend up to 15 million Euro, that's the budget of the bank right now."

After deciding to end his support of Bjarne Riis' team, Tinkov makes it clear he is not ready to pay any price to stay in cycling in 2014. He knows that the sport will undergo major changes for the 2015 season and is ready to sit out for a season and even create his own team from scratch.

"Some of the team owners are maybe ready to sell and we could buy them out, but I know they'll want money even if they don't have any value or assets, except for some old buses…" he said.

"There's no rush and so we may now be better off to wait and set up our own team in 2015 under the new rules and structure the UCI are working for next year."

Why Tinkov wants to own a team

After working with Bjarne Riis in 2013 and negotiating with several other team managers, Tinkov is emphatic that he wants direct control of his team. He is tired of being just a sponsor, the cash-cow that covers most of the cost of major teams.

"Why do I want to own a team? The answer is very simple," he explains.

"We all know that cycling has had a lot problems and I hope things will get better in the near future as we see more professional people involved. For me its fundamental that the owner of the team should be the one who pays the bills. It's about control and responsibility.

"The problems of cycling today is that the teams are usually managed by former riders and former sports directors who don't have any of their own money. They go begging to sponsors for funding and yet the sponsors pay 100 per cent of the bills but don't have any leverage on the running of the team. That's absurd. A team manager should run the team, not worry about the budget. If Bjarne had spent more time coaching Contador instead of looking for sponsors perhaps he'd have done better at the Tour de France…

"With teams not getting any of the TV rights, the managers are victims of the system. At the moment team managers only have sponsors as a source of income and so they often try to steal money, allow doping to be successful and treat the riders badly when they get desperate. We need to change things."

"If you are just a sponsor you have no control on running of the team. If I pay 10 million of Euro, I want to make sure I get 10 million of Euro of exposure. I don't want my brand diluted if the team brings in another sponsor or signs riders that aren't good. I want to have my say because I put in the money."

Tinkov calls on the UCI to create a new structure for the sport that will encourage business and investors to own and control the teams instead of team managers.

"I really hope the UCI and new president Brian Cookson makes the changes that are needed," he says.

"We need more businessmen involved and we need more bike brands such as Cannondale or Trek to own the teams. They'll make much more responsible decisions and cycling would be run more like a business. Katusha, BMC, Cannondale are the right model. Where the people who own the team pays the bills and where a skilled manager runs the team but does not have to worry about the money."

Taking to Twitter

Tinkov has often taken to Twitter to have his say on the sport of professional cycling. He confirmed his divorce with Riis via Twitter in the summer. He also openly criticised Alberto Contador after his disappointing Tour de France and lamented when Contador decided not to ride the Vuelta.

On July 22nd he tweeted: "His salary doesn't match his performance. Too rich and isn't hungry, that's my opinion, and I deserve it. He must work harder."

On July 29th he tweeted: "He is not riding Vuelta- he is tired), LOL, what the fu*k Conta is tired from one race? He isn't tired to receive monthly HUGE check, though."

Not surprisingly the tweets angered many of Contador's fans and damaged his relationship with both Contador and Riis. But Tinkov is unrepentant.

"It's my Twitter account and so I can say what I want," he tells Cyclingnews from Thailand where is on vacation.

"It's a kind of an alter ego. I like to joke on Twitter. Sometimes I put nonsense and bullshit on my Twitter account but that's how I feel social media should be used. It's just fun, it's not serious. This is a serious interview. Now I'm being serious.

"I never got any complaints directly, from Bjarne or Alberto. In that particular instant, I was indeed pissed off with him for a number of reasons. But I respect Alberto and he knows that. I tweeted after the Tour de France, not during the race to not affect his performance, but I did it because I wasn't happy with him. For the money he's getting, he should have done two Grand Tours and he should have done better than fourth."

Dream team for 2015

Tinkov may have burnt his bridges with Contador but he has his eye on several riders for his own team.

He explains how he wants to enjoy watching his riders win races from the team car or even ride part of each stage during a Grand Tour. Owning a team would help promote his Russian credit card brand but that is not why he wants to invest in the sport.

"Life is all about fun. That's why I want to own a team, because it's fun," he said.

"I want to be like Roman Abramovich (the owner of the Chelsea soccer team) and enjoy owning the team. I want to be in the team car and ride my bike at race. I want to enjoy it. Now I'm looking for my Jose Mourinho to be the best coach in cycling and for my star striker.

"Lots of riders are under contract but if I could, I'd love to have Fabian Cancellara in my team. I like him as a rider and for his personality. Peter Sagan is a great talent for the future, too. I'd want lots of good riders in my team because I'd want to do well in Grand Tours, too. I want to do well in all the races, from the classics to the Japan Cup."

Doping

Tinkov owned his own team back in 2007 and 2008 before selling it to fellow Russian Igor Makarov, who created the Katusha team.

The Tinkoff team signed Tyler Hamilton as team leader after he served his ban for blood doping along with Jörg Jaksche, Danilo Hondo, Mikhail Ignatiev, Evgeni Petrov, Pavel Brutt, Salvatore Commesso and Vasili Kiryienka also in the squad.

The team was invited to the 2007 Giro d'Italia but Hamilton and Jaksche were suspended from the team after evidence in Operación Puerto indicated they were clients of Dr Fuentes.

Despite the murky past of his team and comments from Hamilton accusing him of turning a blind eye to doping back in 2007, Tinkov now insists he is against doping.

"I want to be clear. I was in the sport for two years and we had zero doping cases in the team. Maybe there were former dopers in the team but they served their bans, were able to race and so I hired them, just like other teams did," he told Cyclingnews.

"I'm against doping. I'm totally against doping. I raced when I was young and won 40 races but I never, ever doped.

"The people who dope now are really stupid, they don't understand that cycling has changed. Unfortunately people take risk for money, for fame and success. Some do it in a basic way and get caught. Some do it in a more complex way like Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel did. They did it to get money. It seems like there was an organised doping machine there. I would never allow an organised doping programme in my team."

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