Last year, Oleg Tinkov threatened to boycott the Tour de France in 2016 but with the race just a month away, and his departure from the sport set for the end of the season, he has called on race organisers ASO to take control and save cycling from the ‘impotent’ and ‘bureaucratic’ UCI.
Speaking exclusively to Cyclingnews at the Criterium du Dauphine, the Tinkoff team owner repeated his belief that the economic model within cycling was fundamentally flawed and that more teams would continue to fold under the pressure in the coming years. However, instead of arguing that the teams or organisations such as Velon should lead from the front – as he has done in the past – Tinkov suggested that the Tour de France organisers should create their own league, even if it meant doing so without the UCI.
“I don’t regret that I spent the money but the fundamental economical model isn’t there. For me it should a league created by ASO,” Tinkov told Cyclingnews.
“They need to take the lead and reform without the UCI. The reforms ASO would make would be better without the UCI because they really do nothing, they’re sort of an impotent structure. ASO need to go and buy RCS and the Giro, create a league and then sign the deals with companies like Sky television so that there’s pay-per-view and then share that revenue. That’s the future.”
Tinkov has been one of the most vocal team bosses in relation to the stunted UCI reforms for 2017 and the failure to introduce a sound economic model. He leaves the sport at the end of the season having invested millions of his own fortune in a team he bought from Bjarne Riis in 2013 but is now set to close at the end of the season.
IAM Cycling are also leaving the sport at the end of the season and although Bora-Argon 18 are expected to step up to World Tour and there is talk of a Bahrain team, Tinkov predicts that more teams will struggle to keep afloat in the next two years. Along with the ASO taking a firm grip on the sport, he suggests that the elite tier of cycling should be reduced and that a salary cap should be implemented. Other team bosses have suggested the idea of a salary cap, most notably Jonathan Vaughters at Cannondale.
“We also need less teams, so maybe 15 or 16, with a peloton of around 120 riders,” he said, before adding: “There’s also safety reasons for doing this.
“Then there should be less races but I should stress that we also need a salary cap introduced. What happened now is that when you have a guy like Sagan, Contador or Froome on the market the price can go anywhere because you’ve got ten teams who are competing. The salary cap is needed but ASO need to take the lead and take control of cycling.”
“Then teams will be more solid and more financially sound. That’s good for riders, good for teams, and good for spectators. Right now we have Tinkoff closing, IAM closing. BMC isn’t so good and so what you’re seeing is bike producers and government companies propping up the teams. These teams survive year by year and it’s only time before Orica, Dimension Data and teams like that will close. It’s not a sustainable model. It’s collapse after collapse. We’ll have two more next year, two more the year after that.”
Tinkov is also certain that the UCI do not have the experience or knowledge to improve the structural issues within cycling. He as grown frustrated with what he perceives as a lack of pace and leadership from the governing body.
“I don’t see how the UCI can change it and I don’t trust them at all do it. They’re just a bunch of bureaucrats. They can be involved in the anti-doping and technical side but they can’t be involved in the business side. They have no idea about business.”
Contador and Sagan
For Tinkov, who was in relaxed spirits as he watched the stage 4 finish of the Dauphine, the future is all about his La Datcha chalets project and it seems unlikely that he will make a about-face and decide to keep a team for 2017.
“For me the future is all about my La Datcha project. I hope that for the Tour de France there will be some La Datcha logo on the jersey. That’s my project. Cycling for me is more or less behind me.
“I’ve not even left and you’re already asking me when am I coming back,” he joked.
“I’ve enjoyed every moment I’ve spent in cycling, every penny I’ve spent, and working with Sagan, Contador and other champions. It’s been a pleasure for me.”
As for the futures of his two leading riders – Sagan and Contador – all Tinkov would say was that the pair will have no shortage of suitors when it comes to finding new teams.
“Let's put it this way. Peter has no problem. If Sagan hasn’t sorted his contract by now then it’s really bad for cycling.
“Alberto is a great champion and he’ll have no problem signing a contract.”