After being criticised by Bjarne Riis in a recent interview, Oleg Tinkov has hit back at the former Tinkoff team manager, defending his right to make his own decisions after buying the team from the Dane, whom he goes on to suggest should be banned from cycling for life.
Riis' interview with Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet saw him respond to criticism from Tinkov regarding the demise of the team, which will close its doors at the end of the year as the Russian withdraws his sponsorship. Riis described the team, set up as CSC-Tiscali in 2001, as his life's work, and outlined his disappointment with how it has finished up since he sold it to Tinkov in 2013 and left altogether early last year.
"I guess it is hard to understand the nature of capitalism, growing up in socialistic Denmark," Tinkov told Cyclingnews in response.
"Riis must know that once ownership has changed, the new owner can do whatever with his property. I bought the toy, played with it, and did it in my way, so it is weird to hear these complaints. He used my money that I paid him to buy a chalet in the Swiss Alps, and most likely has refurbished it in his way, and it would be strange if the previous owner were complaining about its new style."
At first, the relationship between Riis and Tinkov appeared congenial with the duo happy to pose for the photographers during a training camp in Gran Canaria. The relationship, though, began to sour, with the Dane suspended from his role as team manager before leaving the team in March of last year.
In the interview with Ekstra Bladet, Riis suggested that the relationship breakdown was due to 'envy'.
"I enjoyed the respect of the riders and the other employees," said the Dane. "Respect is something you have to deserve. It's something you build up over years. It is not something you buy. I still absolutely do not understand why it went so wrong. I come from a world where people talk about things if there's a problem but it was impossible. Eventually I had enough and I asked for our agreement to be ended. I was not fired, although the journalists like to write it."
While Riis was keen to retain a level of diplomacy in his interview, Tinkov continued his criticism, adding that he does not believe Riis should return to the sport with the Continental and Women's WorldTour teams Virtu Pro-VeloConcept in 2017. Tinkov did not stop with Riis, adding that there should not be a place in the sport for Cannondale-Drapac team manager Jonathan Vaughters, nor former US Postal, Astana and RadioShack team manager Johan Bruyneel.
"I never said that before, but if he opens up the discussion, I should say that people like Riis, Bruyneel and Vaughters must be banned out of cycling for life," Tinkov added.
"They not only highly promoted doping, but also materially benefit from it. I see this as a crime, actually. Pity that such a people are getting back into my sport."
Both Riis and Vaughters have admitted to doping during their careers as professional riders, but Riis has always denied encouraging riders to dope during his time as a manager, while Vaughters has managed the Slipstream set-up - now Cannondale-Drapac - since 2008 with an express commitment to clean cycling. Bruyneel, the former US Postal manager, is two-and-a-half years into a 10-year ban, which he is currently appealing.
Tinkov has ruffled the feathers of numerous people within the world of cycling, never failing to speak his mind and offer suggestions on how to improve the sport. In his final blog for Cyclingnews, he explained that he had 'no regrets' over his €50 million investment and will distance himself from the sport for at least a couple of years, saying: "At the moment I'm tired of it all."
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