Oleg Tinkov has played down suggestions that he will sell his Tinkoff team to the nascent Bahrain Cycling Team, telling Cyclingnews he is likely to “simply fold the team down at the end of the season” if the team fails to find a new sponsor or new funding partner.
The Russian entrepreneur claims he does not know if Bjarne Riis will be appointed as the team manager of the Bahrain Cycling Team or what Riis and Danish business partner Lars Seier Christensen plan to announce in Copenhagen on Thursday at a special press conference.
However, Tinkov pulled no punches in warning Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain against working with the Danish manager. Tinkov bought the WorldTour team from Riis in 2014 but then dismissed him as team manager last spring after a series of disputes.
Tinkov told the riders and staff about his decision to quit cycling in December during a winter training camp. He then made his decision public in an exclusive interview with Cyclingnews.
"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 at the time. “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.”
Tinkov explained that his reasons were personal – due to the lack of support for his attempts to change the business model of professional cycling, and commercial. Tinkov bought the current Tinkoff team structure from Bjarne Riis in 2014 and then parted ways with the Danish manager in the spring of 2015 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.
Peter Sagan and Rafa Majka are both under contract with the Tinkoff team for 2017, hence the possible interest from the Bahrain Cycling Team to secure Sagan's services by buying the existing team structure that owns his contract.
Tinkov has avoided the spotlight as the months tick down to his exit from the sport. Tinkoff CEO Stefano Feltrin is working hard to try to find a new sponsor and owner for the team but Tinkov confirmed the team is still up for sale. He is not optimistic of finding a buyer and denied any knowledge of Riis' plans for the future and the Bahrain Cycling Team.
“I am happy to talk to any buyer. But I am realistic about it, and understand that in today's conditions to sell cycling team is challenging. Therefore, most likely, we'll simply fold down the team at the end of season,” he said.
"All I know about Riis, Lars or Bahrain is what I read on Cyclingnews. but I’m not interested in collecting gossip. I’m sort of tired of cycling and its insinuations. I am busy growing my Tinkoff Bank for now.
"All I will say is that every day I becoming more and more convinced about leaving this sport. It’s one mess after another. I'll be happy to finish on a high with Alberto (Contador) winning the Tour de France and Peter (Sagan) some monuments, that’s it.”