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An interview with Oleg Tinkov, December 19, 2008
Brewing over cycling exit
Oleg Tinkov is leaving cycling and the team he funded for the last two years – Tinkoff Credit Systems. The Russian businessman met Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown to explain why he will not be continuing in 2009 with Team Katusha.
Oleg Tinkov developed his Continental team into a well-established Professional Continental Team, Tinkoff Credit Systems, at the end of 2006. The Italy-based, Russia-funded team gained numerous victories, including two stages in the Giro d'Italia. The team announced midway through this season that it would expand with the help of new sponsors and be known as Team Katusha for 2009.
Igor Makarov's Itera backs the new team with additional funding from sponsors Gazprom and Rostechnologii. With the budget of 15 to 20 million Euro, it signed several key riders to bolster its ranks – Australian Robbie McEwen, Belgian Gert Steegmans, Italian Filippo Pozzato, Russians Vladimir Karpets and Alexandre Botcharov. The signing of former top professional Andrei Tchmil as general director in July did not make sense in Tinkov's eyes. The two tried to work side-by-side, but Tinkov decided to leave his loved sport in September.
Cyclingnews: You developed team Tinkoff Restaurants to Tinkoff
Credit Systems and now, as the team takes another step up, you are leaving.
How did this all come about?
We talked at the Giro, he said he liked our team and it would be a good idea [to take over Tinkoff]. We signed the deal in May and we agreed I would be the president and he would pay the bills. For some reason during the Tour de France he said his old friend Andrea Tchmil would like to be involved and he wanted him to be there. I said 'why do we need two captains on one boat, when there are two captains the boat does not go anywhere?'.
CN: Makarov signed Tchmil, though. Then what happened?
My goal was not to make money, but to build the best Russian team. Like Team Astana for Kazakhstan, I want to have a Russian team win the Giro and eventually the Tour de France. I don't care about money; I spent my own seven million Euro for three years.
I went back to Makarov in September and said it really won't work and you have to decide who is going to run the team. It a lot of politics – there are a lot of people behind Makarov and Tchmil had his role in the Moldavia government, but I am a straightforward businessman.
I was not forced to leave. No one said 'you have to go'.
CN: Do you still talk with Tchmil?
CN: Is it better to have someone like Bob Stapleton, who is not a past
cyclist, in the sport?
Former cyclists, they are people from the same loop. What is he [Tchmil] doing? He brings in [directeur sportif] Serge Parsani; he is basically starting to bring all of his friends into the team. I said, 'Andrei, that is not what you want to do, you want to get the best people out of the market, not your friends'.
He wants to make sure he controls the situation, the money. I am a believer in the Anglo-Saxon model, where I am sure that Australian teams, American teams and United Kingdom teams are going to emerge, or even German. Their model is based on the business model, instead of the manage model. The French, Italian and Spanish teams, it is more like 'friends, friends'.
CN: Who made the decisions to sign the new riders for Katusha?
CN: Is it true what some media reported, that Katusha was offering lucrative
contracts to riders?
Now we have this crisis, I believe that all the wages for the riders should go down 30 or 40 percent. I am from the business side, and believe me, I know what is going on the other side of the road – there is no money. Next year you will see lots of sponsors pull out. Lots will pull out or they will decrease their expenses. There is no way this guy is going to drive a Ferrari or nice cars. They look fine now, because the contracts were signed one or two years ago.
CN: Is it your dream is to return to the cycling world?
CN: Do you have any regrets from the last three years?
CN: What were the high points?
What we – Omar Piscina, Dmitri Konyshev, Feltrin, Orlando Maini, Claudio Cozi – achieved in the last two years was amazing. We participated in major events with a relatively small budget. We went to both Grand Tours – Vuelta and Giro – we went to the Tour of Qatar, Tour of Malaysia, Paris-Roubaix, [Milano-] Sanremo, Tour of Flanders...
I wanted to go to two races: Tour of California and the Tour de France. I wanted to go to the Tour of California because I have a house in San Francisco and I spent six years there, my kids went to the schools. I am passionate about it and I want to bring my team there. I have a lot of cycling friends there and I have done about 15,000 to 20,000 kilometres [of riding] there.
CN: Did the doping scandals help you make the decision to leave the
It is getting better, though, with the cleansing. It helps, even if is very strict and aggressive. The reason Tinkoff did not win a lot this year is simply because I am sure my guys – at least the Russian guys – are clean.
CN: How can you be sure they are all clean?
You look at an amateur team in Italy, which I won't name. The team wins a lot, they are all 18 to 20 [years old], they win a lot in 2006, but obviously they have been doping. Unfortunately, that is the culture, they all want to become professionals and they use a lot a s**t and that is simply because they can afford it. The UCI pushes the biological passports and ProTour teams, but I would rather see [Pat] McQuaid spend his money on the amateur teams. That is where all the s**t starts, that is where they learn how to do it. They want to become professional and they want to earn big money. When they are 18 and they want to drive a BMW, the only way they can do is to sign a contract with a big team, but they feel they have to dope – that is the problem that exists.
CN: At the end of 2007, you tried to fill you team with only young Russians?
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Gregor Brown
Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net
Images by AFP Photo
Images by Tinkoff Credit Systems