By Gerard Knapp
One of the unannounced and low-key visitors to the Sydney round of the UCI Track World Cup was none other than man-of-the-moment, cyclist, millionaire and cycling team sponsor, Oleg Tinkov.
The Siberian was in Sydney en-route to Fiji for a holiday, apparently, and took time out to visit Dunc Gray Velodrome to catch some of the track racing action; in particular, riders such as Mikhail Ignatiev and Nikolei Trussov, who were both representing Russia (and are also riders in the Italy-based, Russia-registered Tinkoff Restaurants professional squad).
Tinkoff himself is not only a very successful businessman in Russia, he's also fit enough to race for his own team, as Sergey Kurdyukov revealed in this profile and interview in May this year. His regular training partners include Viatcheslav Ekimov, the legendary Russian cyclist who also wrote Tinkov's training program that helped the businessman shed almost 20kg's to get back to racing weight.
Tinkov has also been in the news recently for hiring Danilo Hondo (the German sprinter returning from a doping suspension) and is rumoured to have signed American, Tyler Hamilton, for his 2007 squad, to be called Tinkoff Credit Systems.
While Tinkov did not make his presence known to the media (or the officials, for that matter), the riders certainly knew he was there, as Ignatiev explained after he and Trussov had won the Madison on Sunday.
"My sponsor, Oleg Tinkov, is here to look at race. We need to win!" Ignatiev said with a smile. The Russian duo rode very strongly on the final day and took the Madison comfortably. In fact, the Russian male endurance riders were particularly strong in Sydney, with Alexander Serov defeating Robert Bengsch (Germany) in the individual pursuit final with a time of 2.45.056 (the Russian actually caught his opponent – fairly rare in a gold medal final – see report); and the Russian men won the teams pursuit, and in the same session Ignatiev also won the points race in devastating style (see report).
Ignatiev said it was important to ride well when the team owner and main sponsor was present, even if he was on his way to a holiday in the Pacific. So did the vacations extend to the riders? "Me? Go to Fiji? No! I work, I work," he repeated, before heading off to yet another medal presentation.
Bates focused on points
While the Russians dominated the men's endurance events in Sydney, the women's events were shared among the relative favourites from the host nation, while Vera Koedooder from The Netherlands showed that the former junior world track champion is starting to realize her potential with a win in the scratch race.
Katherine Bates, who narrowly won the women's 20km points race, couldn't repeat the performance two days later in the scratch race.
Bates admitted to not being in top form during the scratch race. "I left everything out on the track during the points race," she said of her effort two days earlier. Bates also joked that the absence of her 'fan club' on the Sunday could also have been a factor. "Absolutely, that's why it didn't happen!"
"I think I did everything right [in the scratch race] but I just didn't have the gas that I normally do. I knew I didn't have enough for the sprint so I had to go for it [attack the field for a break-away win]. But I'm not too disappointed; sometimes you just blow it."
But as the scratch race is not an Olympic event, it doesn't seem to figure too prominently in her plans for the next two years.
"My life doesn't exist beyond Beijing at this point," she said of her focus on the points race at the next Olympic games. While a very strong pursuit rider, the Australian is targeting the one endurance event in the next two years, and that will include the 2007 track world's to be held in Palma de Mallorca next March.
Bates is seen as Australia's best hope to break the stranglehold on this title held by Europeans, such as Italian Vera Carrara (Italy), who successfully defended her world title at this year's world's in Bordeaux with a late attack to draw level on points with early leader, four time winner Olga Slyusareva (Russia).
Bates is also a new recruit to the multinational T-Mobile women's road team for 2007. "It's an opportunity of a lifetime," she said. "I think it's the first time a women's team will actually be run by women, with a female manager and female race director, and they were both my heroes growing up, too," Bates said of her fellow Australians, Kristy Scrymgeour (manager) and Anna Wilson (director sportif), who were former team-mates with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and Saturn.
The 2007 program should allow her to focus on the road events that suit her strengths and also fit in with her preparation for the track events. So that could involve a few hard races in flat and windy northern European roads? "I suppose so. I'm sure there'll be a few races where I can make a contribution," she added.