Oleg Tinkof, owner of WorldTour squad Tinkoff-Saxo, is putting his “toy back in the box.” The Russian business tycoon, social media provocateur and all-purpose irritant is leaving the sport. We’re happy, we’re sad, we already miss the bombast.
Characters are in short supply in pro cycling where jobs are in short supply, riders are careful what they say and team owners speak like corporate CEO’s. Put aside the occasional angry outburst from Patrick Lefevere of Etixx-Quickstep and you have nothing but bland.
Ever since Cannonade’s boss Jonathan Vaughters stepped away from the political battles and serial UCI nonsense, there has been a wit vacuum in the sport. Not that Tinkof was ever particularly witty but he had his moments, buried in all the self-promotion and ego gratification, where he spoke some hard truths.
In his way, Tinkof was the Donald Trump of pro cycling, happy to say whatever inflammatory statement he could think of to feed the media machine. One minute he would poke ASO, the next moment it was the UCI. He had an opinion on every subject although his favorite story was always himself.
But like former UCI president Patrick McQuaid, we’ll miss Tinkof on a purely comedic level. He was like a boorish but occasionally entertaining reality TV show, the Russian nutball, loose cannon who takes over a professional cycling team. As the TV writers used to say, “hilarious consequences ensue.”
However, all is not lost. We’re losing the Tinkof black comedy but we’re gaining a new show. It’s a drama, dark, exotic and perhaps dangerous. Yes, we’re talking about the new Bahrain entry from Prince Nasser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa. We’re going from the Russia to the Middle East, new cast, fresh scripts.
This promises to be must-see Cycling TV as the Prince has been linked to several claim that he personally tortured political prisoners in his country. Now Tinkof did his best to psychologically annoy his star rider Peter Sagan, but nobody every said he actually physically tortured him.
However, it appears there is certainly some credible testimony that the Prince himself was, shall we say, forceful in dealing with political opponents. It’s part of the weird charm of pro cycling that human rights abuses seem to be no impediment to owning a WorldTour team.
At this point we have no idea what kind of a character the Prince will portray in pro cycling. But we’re confident he has the money, power and ego to replace Tinkof as the best show in cycling.
Perhaps we’re asking for too much in hoping Nasser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa can bring plenty to the role — part Tinkof, part Vinokourov, part mysterious Prince with secret police.
The Prince has a new toy to take out of the box. There’s a Shark inside, Vincenzo Nibali. Now, what’s he have in mind?