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

Stephen Farrand
October 25, 2013, 16:30,
October 25, 2013, 17:16
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."


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."

powerste More than 1 year ago
I want to sponsor a team so I can ride part of the parcours with the pros and ride in the team car. Owning a team would allow ME to have fun. Nice rationale dude. Now please go find a different hobby.
Justin O'Pinion More than 1 year ago
I disagree, respectfully. Say what you want about the guy, but after reading the article I have to agree with a lot of what he says. Cycling, and this is only my opinion, has been hand to mouth for far too long. He's a fan, just like us, but his pockets are way, way deeper. Well, in my case, half of nothing is still nothing. Anyhow, he wants to own a team and do it his own way. His own way is to apply a business model and stick to it in order to market his brand. Cycling is a great bang for the sponsorship buck, or Euro in his instance. That's cool with me, and it will likely work. I really do hope he means what he says about being against doping though, and not the win at any cost attitude.
sam171 More than 1 year ago
i agree with you. he seems like an absolute nightmare but if he has the money, his model seems better. i kind of agree that too many managers are desperate for cash so they leave their specialty of coaching in an effort to find sponsors...and end up encouraging bad behavior for results.
powerste More than 1 year ago
To be fair, the one thing he said that I do agree with is about the model itself in which the team manager is also the chief fundraiser. I don't know that I'd go so far to say that Riss did a worse coaching job with AC due to this issue, but I do think it's an issue. But I don't trust him, and that is perhaps why I take issue with his "fun fun fun" attitude. I know he's a fan, but I don't know that he is competent to manage a team. His Twitter activity, regardless of how he brushes it off, does nothing to help run a better team. And his history w/ regard to allowing doping is pretty suspect (see TH and others). Dunno if he is serious about fixing that or not, but I'm leery of giving him the benefit of the doubt.
NashbarShorts More than 1 year ago
Yes yes, russian oligarch demand results. You rider you win or no gruel for you. Make you strong like bull for next race, then you win. "I raced as a youngster and won 40races w/o doping". Hey Askhat, ever ride at the pro level???
Alan D More than 1 year ago
Hey NAshbar. I can tell you never won a race... not a real one. Ever race Cat 1 in Europe? Well, Tinkoff did. And who cares.?. Call the shots when you can walk the talk. Tinkoff might be whatever, but he wants to save the sport. So what if there's an upside , be it vanity, publicity, or god forbid so market advantage for his company brand?
swagner2 More than 1 year ago
All these owners and sponsors are jock sniffers. Why else invest in the sport. Sans the component makers cycling is a weak ROI. Just a few issues with Pro Cycling: * No confirmed single- race calendar * No assured invites to major races * Constant negative publicity * No franchise system You're not investing in cycling, your spending.
wrinklyvet More than 1 year ago
jock sniffers?
TheFred More than 1 year ago
Means they will do or pay anything to be with elite athletes.
wrinklyvet More than 1 year ago
Alan D More than 1 year ago
Gee... so let's get rid of all non-component sponsors?... hmmm... that makes sense ... NOT !!! . TInkoff and all other sponsors are more than welcome... just ask the wives and kids of all the 1600 riders, and 20000 mechanics and others in the system, and all the million kids dreaming of being there. OH YEah.. get rid of those bloodsuckers/jocksniffers... who cares if you destroy the sport and reduce it to the weekend warrior status of fun-running. At least swagner2 and all the other small thinkers will be vindicated.
cantpedal More than 1 year ago
following your logic I label you a "Jock Sniffer" as well.
shapiro More than 1 year ago
Yeah, he should be running a team so that he can have a sh.. time! That would satisfy the fun police. Is there a rule? "If you want to have fun then stay out of cycling."
DavidConnell More than 1 year ago
"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." So how does this apply to buying advertising through television, radio, on web sites or magazines? Tinkoff is out of touch with reality — which makes him perfect for professional sports.
montani3semper More than 1 year ago
This dude seems to be from the Czar's era; a rancher from the barren steppes, talked about by Tolstoi and Putshkin'....Just with this interview he ruled himself out of WT. Got Visa, AMEX, Master Card? No I've got Diners Club!.......
azureskies More than 1 year ago
3 thumbs up. Get results, 4th in Le Tour not good enough, off to the Gulag for Riis, Contador. I am sure that Olags' new team will draw his Troika to his satisfaction. Cheaper to ctiticizr his riders on Tweeter.
runninboy More than 1 year ago
most people I know would rather have a job and be criticized when the under perform, than no job at all. Greg Lemond was the first big money cyclist, with that he brought great expectations. You get paid 20 times what a domestique gets you better win the TDF. Not second, not third, not fourth or tenth but first. That is what the big money is for. If you do not do your job successfully you will not continue to be paid big money. When you are being threatened by younger riders making one tenth of what you are paid it will not be long until they make more than you and you ain't getting no raise.
Bmo012 More than 1 year ago
If I was spending 15mil a year on my hobby, you can be damn straight that I'd be rolling down the ramp at the TDF prologue. Sounds like a F-ing good laugh.
vicbc8 More than 1 year ago
ya i would also roll in the car. play some motivational music over the radios, get the riders going.
ProRoadAccess More than 1 year ago
I'd really be scared to ride for Oleg. He has a history of throwing his riders under the bus.
Oxygen Vector More than 1 year ago
Everybody in pro cycling throws the riders under the bus. Whats new?
Alan D More than 1 year ago
Touche Oxy !!... it's called the real world. We pay you 3m Euros coz you reckon you can win Le Tour?... and, er, you don't?... well eff off mate.. and gimme my money back as you leave. Fair cop. Contador was a complete letdown, and paid copiously to be so. I personally saw him getting sliced up on several cols this year... by a guy on 1/4 his pay. Say no more.
Raoul Duke More than 1 year ago
To my surprise he has some good points, but as a person he seems like a total arseloch
Oxygen Vector More than 1 year ago
Might help if you actually knew the fellow personally.
Raoul Duke More than 1 year ago
Do you know him? Would be good to hear from someone that actually does. Why I carefully said "he seems", I can only go by what the media has reported
Raoul Duke More than 1 year ago
pardon me, that's arschloch
london knight More than 1 year ago
He is clearly an arrogant narcissist who feels because he is rich he can say whatever he wants
Justin O'Pinion More than 1 year ago
He's no different than the posters on these boards then, is he?
Gary333 More than 1 year ago
Minus the millions of dollars! Well, for me at least! haha!
Montoya4Ever More than 1 year ago
I can tell you you more than several euro millions of differences with us....the difference is ... we can't afford to buy a team to do what we post in here ...
brucegolla More than 1 year ago
AAAAhahah! a team of cycling news forum post ers
cantpedal More than 1 year ago
what a debacle that would be!
Alan D More than 1 year ago
meals-on-wheels More than 1 year ago
And that's how he appears to want to present himself. Would you want to work for someone who denigrates you on twitter and calls it fun?
Oxygen Vector More than 1 year ago
cantpedal More than 1 year ago
If you pay me what he gave to AC
Evan Shaw More than 1 year ago
He is also a woman hater, a racist, and a homophobe. In a nutshell, he has no place in cycling. Go start a league of dopers Oleg.
Justin O'Pinion More than 1 year ago
Evan, is he a right wing Tea Party Republican? Wait until the Democrats catch wind, they'll have a field day.
TheFred More than 1 year ago
Evan, have you spent any time in Russia? He is typical of a Russian man and identical to a Russian man with massive money. Different cultures= fabric of life
Montoya4Ever More than 1 year ago
He is the perfect example of someone who got lucky and rich on the way but never had culture attached to him (he sold beers!!!!! ... no ofense to respectable brewers here) .. and now with money we have the "furtune" to listen to him speaking words of wisdom as if he were the revealed new Dalai Lama of cycling .....
azureskies More than 1 year ago
Pretty smart cookie though, through his bodaciousness, Olag can advertize for free on twitter, cyclingnews. Soon someone will write a book for him,? Positively True, by Olag Tinkoff."
Alan D More than 1 year ago
I never met a millionaire who did it on luck... except a Lotto winner ,such as myself. ;-) Makinf takes very hard work, and keeping it and doubling up takes real savvy , skill , brains, and fortitude.. Montoya, u just don't understand.
runninboy More than 1 year ago
Alan is correct. Bill Gates made his fortune a bit on the shady side. First he basically ripped off Apple, which ripped off Xerox. Which is why Apple could not get anything from Microsoft, but i worked for a small pr company that did some work in the late 80s, which brought Microsoft to the forefront. It turns out the work & the way we were to be paid were a tad illegal. I left the company to work in Europe for a few years when i returned i found out the SEC was going after Gates for similar violations. The time i worked with him his company was on the verge of going under after the crash of 87. He doubled down and broke the law to keep his company going. People who did things legally folded. It is not "luck", it takes alot of work, alot of risk and sometimes even more. RIght now Gates actually still owes me about 29,000 shares of stock and i am not holding my breath waiting for it.
Lightening Toke More than 1 year ago
He's right about at least this. Twitter should be for fun. The people trying to parley their Twitter accounts into money, a career, or career enhancement, are ruining it, by demanding that the rest of us who already have jobs treat it as a place of serious discourse. Long live hijinks, monkey business, pointless fights, trolling, and sarcasm on Twitter! Or, what is said on Twitter should stay on Twitter.
velogeek More than 1 year ago
What exactly makes him think that Cyclingnews is more serious than Twitter? I can think of dozens of examples to the contrary.
Rich Brown More than 1 year ago
Just finished reading "12 years a slave" by Solomon Northup and he often compares how his slave owners treat their slaves including himself as an owner might treat race horses....