Exclusive: Tinkov to leave cycling after 2016 season

Russian businessman blames lack of change for his exit

In an exclusive interview with Cyclingnews, Oleg Tinkov has revealed that Tinkoff Bank will ends its sponsorship and that he will sell the team at the end of the 2016 season.

The Russian businessman explained that he made the decision for both commercial and personal reasons. Tinkoff Bank has achieved its marketing goals after five years as a sponsor and Tinkov is angry and disappointed that nobody has supported his attempts to change the business model of professional cycling and reduce teams’ dependency on sponsorship.

Tinkov is currently with the Tinkoff team at a training camp in Gran Canaria and told the riders and team staff of his decision on Friday night. Only Peter Sagan and Rafa Majka have contracts for 2017.

Team CEO Stefano Feltrin is working to find new sponsorship and a new owner for the team, with the goal of obtaining a new three-year WorldTour licence for 2017 until 2020 but if no backer is found the team will disappear after next season.

“All the contracts and sponsorships are in place for 2016 but it will be the last season in the sport for Tinkoff Bank and for me,” Tinkov told Cyclingnews.

“There are two main reasons for my decision and I hope people will understand them and then reflect on why professional cycling has lost a guy who has spent over €60 million and who loves the sport.

“First of all, Tinkoff Bank has sponsored the team for five years and from a marketing point of view that’s enough. We’re not a global bank, the economical situation in Russia is not great and my marketing people tell me that we’ve reached all the investors we can via cycling and sports sponsorship. We’ve decided we have to switch our advertising budget to direct TV advertising in 2017.

“That’s the logical, business side of my decision. The other half is more complex and a lot more personal and is why I refuse to use any of my personal wealth going forward.”

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“I’ve decided to sell the team and quit the sport because I’ve realised nobody wants to work with me to help change the business model of the sport. In the last two or three years I’ve tried to fight with ASO and the UCI, I’ve tried to find new revenue streams via TV rights, merchandise sales and tickets sales but nobody really supported me and wanted to take a strong stand with me.

“During 2015, I started to feel like Don Quixote de la Mancha. It’s perhaps a philosophical feeling because Don Quixote tilts at windmills but that’s how I feel. I’d tried to save the managers, riders and staff from themselves by trying to get everyone together, to change the revenue sources and improve things for everyone. It would make the sport more sustainable.

“When I read interviews with the big riders they never say they back my ideas, even my own riders, so maybe they don’t even care. Dave Brailsford is the only one who tried to support me. I met Jonathan Vaughters a couple of times; he’s a good talker when he’s at the restaurant but he never really supported me. But everyone should understand that nobody can fight ASO or push for changes on their own. We should back each other and then ASO wouldn’t dare kick out one team because we would all boycott the Tour de France.

“But if nobody else cares about the future of the sport, then why should I care? F*ck all of them! That’s my personal reason why I want to leave professional cycling. From January 2017, I’m gone. I’m out of cycling. I’ll jump on my jet, fly home and focus on my business interests and enjoying my life. Everyone who is left in cycling will be the ones who will be in the shit. They will have to try to survive year by year, trying to convince sponsors to back a sport that isn’t sustainable.”

Failings of the UCI

Tinkov also pointed the finger at the UCI for failing to change the structure of professional cycling, dismissing their recently announced plans to give three-year licences to teams from 2017.

“The UCI are stupid guys,” he said dismissively.

“It’s pretty simple to solve cycling’s problems. Teams need to have equity so they can survive and develop. We need licences for at least five years, not just three years. We need a transfer market like in football, so that I could perhaps now sell Peter Sagan and make money. Sadly nobody has a strategic view or a real business plan for professional cycling. Everyone follows a 12-month view. But I’m a businessman and work with a 60-month view or even 90 month-view. Nobody can plan, and work with just a 12-month strategy. You won’t achieve anything.”

Sell to the highest bidder, looking forward to 2016

Tinkov bought the current team structure from Bjarne Riis in 2014 and then parted ways with the Danish manager in the spring of this year after a personal fallout and difference of opinions. Tinkov reportedly paid close to €6 million for the team and then paid Riis €1 million a year to manage the team.

Riis is reported to be keen to return to professional cycling and Tinkov said he is ready to sell the team back to him despite their troubled past.

“I don’t mind who buys the team. It can be Bjarne Riis if he wants the team back,” Tinkov said.

“Someone has mentioned that the Polish guy behind the CCC team is interested or maybe someone else. Whoever pays the highest price will get the team. It’s got some assets. Peter Sagan and Rafa Majka have contracts for 2017 and so who ever buys the team, automatically gets those guys for a year and Peter is the best rider in the world now.”

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Despite next season being his last in the peloton, Tinkov insisted he is looking forward to 2016 and is convinced his riders will perform well despite knowing the team could disappear at the end of the season.

“It was difficult to tell the riders about my decision but they understand it and understand that I tried to change professional cycling,” Tinkov said. “I wanted to tell everyone, to get it out there. Now every knows its my last season, I want to enjoy it. I think I’ve been fair with everyone in the team because apart from Peter, Majka nobody has a contract beyond 2016. I told them all now, I didn’t wait until August or the end of the season. I told them 13 months before their contracts expire.

“I’m sure 2016 is going to be our best season. Now the guys have to deliver. Not because of Oleg, their families or the team, but because they’re riding for their futures. I’m sure we're going to rock, that we're going to f*ck everybody.

“I’m proud of my time in professional cycling. We’ve won the world title, Classics, the Giro and we’ve still got 2016 to come. I call on the team to be the best in the sport in 2016, to win the Tour de France, so we go out on a high. I’m convinced that Alberto Contador can win the Tour de France. I think he’s the rider who can beat Chris Froome at the Tour.

“I’ve no regrets about quitting after 2016. I love cycling, it’s my favourite sport. I’ll continue to follow it as a fan but I’ve decided I can’t be part of it unless it changes.”

Oleg Tinkov's Cyclingnews blogs...

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Oleg Tinkov: Who is the best Grand Tour rider at the moment?
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Oleg Tinkov: Chapeau to Team Sky but they’re going to kill the business
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Oleg Tinkov blog: I'm ready to boycott the Tour de France in 2016
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Oleg Tinkov blog: I think I’m a good substitution for Bjarne Riis

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