Oleg Tinkov sat quietly alongside Alberto Contador and Peter Sagan during the Tinkoff-Saxo outdoor press conference in Gap on the second rest day, preferring to let his riders face questions about the Tour de France.
The often outspoken Russian businessman confirmed he was happy with Peter Sagan’s performance in the Tour de France and his dominance of the green points jersey, despite not yet winning a stage. Tinkov only hogged the microphone near the end, when asked his opinion on the quality of the hotel the team was staying in Gap. It is unclear if Tinkov stayed with his riders in the Best Western or if he opted for a more luxurious hotel in the Alps.
Tinkoff-Saxo was squeezed into a basic Best Western hotel on the outskirts of town along with the MTN-Qhubeka team. Contador said the hotel was not suitable for riders in the Tour de France due to the high temperatures and lack of air conditioning. Tinkov agreed and later launched yet another tirade against ASO, even though he will sit down for dinner with ASO General Manager Yann Le Moenner on Tuesday evening.
“This is not the conditions the riders deserve. It’s not acceptable for such a big event. They race under the sun for six hours and for example Peter Sagan was the break for three consecutive days,” Tinkov said, wearing a yellow T-shirt like everyone in his team, in a sign of support for Ivan Basso, who recently underwent surgery for testicular cancer.
“People have asked me to comment about the supposed war I’ve started with ASO," Tinkov said. "The truth is that I haven’t started a war. I just hope they can understand that we need to make some important changes for the general good of the sport.
"I think changes are needed because otherwise the sport will suffer. People like me, Andy Rihs (owner of BMC) and Igor Makarov (owner of the Katusha team) could continue to fund pro cycling but it’s not a healthy business model. Soon there will be no big teams to pay the salary of the star riders and ride the big races. We need to work all together to create the eco system where we create the money to pay the star riders, bring them to the best races and so make the sport we all love even better. It’s not about war, it’s a win-win situation for everyone. We can make the sport better.”
Time for a revolution
Later, speaking to select group of media, including Cyclingnews, Tinkov was more explicit and forthright in his thoughts. All with his usual sense of blunt humour.
“You know how it worked in the French Revolution at the Bastille. They put the king’s head on the guillotine. In the same way, the people of cycling need to get together and make a revolution. Lets start a cycling revolution. We can put the king in the guillotine and chop his head off…” Tinkov said, letting out his loud laugh…
"Cycling is an international sport; it’s not only a French sport. It doesn’t belong to them. Maybe they think so but it’s not true. There are not even any good French riders in the peloton now. They haven’t won the Tour for over 20 years now and I think it’ll be another 20 years before they win it. France is not important in this sport anymore. It’s dominated by Anglo-Saxon teams and Eastern block teams.”
It seems Tinkov would like to metaphorically put Christian Prudhomme’s neck in the guillotine after he claimed the race director avoided saying hello to him during the race.
“It’s not the first time we’ve had a meeting with Yann Le Moenner and ASO but now I think they’re scared, especially Christian Prudhomme, who didn’t say hello to me the other day,” Tinkov said.
“That shows the culture of the person. This is not personal; it’s about the future of the sport. This is not the attitude the team owners are looking for from ASO.
“They should relax. I’m going to show them the way. Sometimes you have to be shown how to do something better. They’ve got a monopoly, a typical French monopoly. I say that because if the teams start to disband, then it’s not going to be better for them. My prediction is that there will be a lot of hassle because I’m sure Rihs will stop, Makarov will stop and I’ll stop. I’m not going to pay 20 million Euros from my own pocket. Why? Enough is enough. Everybody is fed up. Everybody is waiting for the changes but they’re not coming. And the big sponsors are not coming."
No confidence in the UCI
Tinkov appears to have little confidence that UCI and president Brian Cookson can push through major reforms to professional cycling. Cookson is currently trying to convince the UCI Management Committee members to vote the proposed reforms created by a working group. However, ASO has threatened to pull its races from the UCI WorldTour calendar.
“I think the UCI is hopeless. I don’t really see them,” Tinkov said of the UCI.
“I think it should be ASO, the race organisers and the teams together with Velon. I hope Velon can make the push. They (ASO) understand that when we are together, they can’t do much without us. They want to separate us and they’re doing a good job because they’re smart French people. But once we stand together, they will understand we have power.
“The problem with Velon is that they never really explained who they are and what they do. When I spoke to Vinokourov, I say: ‘Sacha, why aren’t you in Velon?’ and he said: ‘Nobody really explained things to me but I’d like to join.’ It’s the same with Katusha and even MTN-Qhubeka. I spoke to their manager last night and he said nobody had invited them.
“The changes we need are not only about TV rights and revenue. It’s also about implementing a transfer system, a franchise system and obviously a salary cap. We need that because if we start to make more money and it goes to the stars, it doesn’t make things any better. We have to follow the NFL or NBA model as an example. I think the other managers are on the same page but they’re afraid of ASO. They don’t have the same balls as I do. Though now they (ASO) are afraid of me and so the other teams are starting to join me.
“I know that they (ASO) are going to kill me but that’s fine. It’ll be interesting to see what they do. The more they push me, the more they show they’re afraid and that I’m right. Their strength would be to collaborate with me and us. I’ve spoken to several teams and all the Velon teams are on the same page.
“All sports had this kind of old business model but I’m sure that in five years this model will be gone, blown away for sure. I’m glad if I’m the one who can push it forward. I know that Manolo Saiz tried and they killed him. I know that Johan Bruyneel tried and they killed him too. But I have nothing to lose. My worst-case scenario is that I stop sponsoring the team and I go and ride my bike at my villa in Forte dei Marmi in Tuscany. The team is not my source of income. It’s the riders, staff and managers who will lose money and I’m fighting for them. I can’t lose because my downside is just to stop and leave the sport.”