Oleg Tinkov has bought the Saxo-Tinkoff team from Bjarne Riis and will be the main sponsor for the squad for the next three years. The team will be known as Tinkoff-Saxo in 2014 with the Danish Saxo Bank accepting the role of second sponsor.
The widely expected take over announcement was made during a live video streaming from Google’s London headquarters organised by the Global Cycling Network YouTube channel. Riis also attended the announcement along with Saxo Bank CEO Lars Seier Christensen, team leader Alberto Contador and Nicolas Roche.
It has been reported that Tinkov has paid Riis close to six million Euro to buy the team, with the former Danish rider set to earn a million Euro a season for the next three years in the role of team manager.
"I believe this is a great day for my team. It’s a day been dreaming for a long time, for many years. I’ve looked forward to today because it shows I’ve done some good, right things for this sport. I’m very happy to announce that Oleg Tinkov will be the new owner of the team. We’ve made agreement of him buying Riis Cycling from immediate effect,” Riis said.
“Riis Cycling will be renamed Tinkov Sport. He owns 100% of the team and he will be sole owner. It also means I’ll continue in a position as general for at least three years. Tinkoff Credit Systems will become the main sponsor and Saxo Bank has agreed to become second name sponsor for 2014. For 2014 the team will be called Tinkoff-Saxo.”
Tinkov, via his Tinkoff Credit Systems online bank, has been a co-sponsor for the Saxo Bank team since July 2012, but announced this summer that he would leave the team after Contador struggled to be competitive against Chris Froome. Tinkov openly criticised Contador and Riis via Twitter straining their relationship and began talks with other teams. However, he told Cyclingnews he wanted to own a team rather than play a passive sponsorship role and eventually returned to the table to thrash out a deal with Riis.
"I’m so happy," said Tinkov during the press conference.
"It’s my private investment, it’s my money. Cycling is my passion. Finally I have my WorldTour team. I also have Bjarne as best team manager and Alberto as best rider. I’m so happy today."
Tinkov then posed for a photo with Riis and Contador. When given the microphone, the Spaniard played down his so-far difficult relationship with Tinkov but kept his arms crossed and rarely smiled during the press conference.
“I think in these times, when there’s a dearth of new sponsors coming into the sport, it can only be a good thing when a man of the stature and wealth of Oleg Tinkov comes into the sport," Contador said in Spanish.
"I know many of you will be raising your eyebrows at our relationship after things that came out after the Tour de France but I can tell you that Oleg and I have spent a lot of time together and whatever happened immediately after the Tour is behind us.”
Questions about Riis' future in the sport
Riis’ long-term future in the sport is in doubt due to the on-going investigation by Anti-Doping Denmark. Riis is expected to be slammed in the final report after revelations from the likes of Michael Rasmussen and could be suspended or forced to leave the sport.
Yet he denied the Danish investigation was the reason he has sold out to Tinkov, claiming the reasons for the sale were so that he could focus on the sporting aspects of the team instead of searching for sponsors and so that he could spend more time with his family.
"It (the outcome of the investigation) is pure speculation. We don’t like speculation, so as we said before, I just mentioned the two reasons. It is what it is," Riis said.
Tinkov explained that he will support Riis until there is a final verdict after the investigation.
“I don’t know what is going on. There are lots of investigations going on,” Tinkov said.
“I have to look at the governance. Were a serious company, so if there’s a decision (by Anti-Doping Denmark) we have to follow the decision. I don’t know what’s going on. It’s not my business. I hope that nothing happens and that we can stay together. If that thing happens it’s sad but anything can happen. I don’t have any problem.”
Tinkov said he believes cycling's doping problems are over.
“I strongly believe that doping is over. Journalists like to talk about it because it sells newspapers but there are no issues about that now. It’s over. Cycling has changed," he suggested.
"We’ll have a zero tollerance to doping. I think that nutrition, recovery, diet and discipline is what makes a difference today.”
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.