Russian businessman Oleg Tinkov, or Tinkoff depending on his mood, has a new toy: he bought out Bjarne’s Riis’ Saxo Bank squad, put a Tinkoff on the front and tried to play nice with his top star Alberto Contador.
Experts in body language will amuse themselves looking at how closed-off Contador looked at the press conference announcing the sale. He sat grim faced with his arms crossed like he was steeling himself for a colonoscopy. (Teammate Nicholas Roche came off far better in his dark suit and black rim glasses — like we was on his way to an art opening in London not a press conference with the creepy Tinkov.
We couldn’t help but think the big winner was Bjarne Riis, who essentially cashes out for a sweet six million euros — which is what, over 8 million US dollars for those counting a home — and another million euros a year just for playing team manager and reading Tinkov’s tweets.
With the Danish anti-doping agency about ready to come down on Riis’ head, he has his exit strategy already executed. He’ll be laughing and downing a bottle of Wodka — with or without the dominatrix — with when the bad news hits.
Maybe he gets his swan song Tour de France win with Alberto Contador and maybe he doesn’t. Either way he still comes out on top and has a built-in excuse if he doesn’t — the meddling, over-bearing Tinkov. Somehow, some way, Riis always gets the last chuckle.
Now maybe Riis is wistful and sad to let go of a squad he has built from Memory Card to CSC to the various Saxo incarnations. The man pulled plenty of rabbits with money out of his hat over the years and that has to wear down a man. (We figure the bloom went off the rose back when the Brothers Schleck and Cancellara abruptly ditched him for their Leopard fantasy.)
Meanwhile, Tinkov is off to the races. After his attempt to buy control of the Cannondale team, he came back to the bargaining table with Riis and nailed down a deal. The irony is that while Riis might well be forced from the sport after the allegations from former riders Michael Rasmussen, Tyler Hamilton and Jörg Jaksche while nobody seems to care much that Hamilton told the same damning stories about Tinkov. Money talks, ethics walk.
The two sides of Tinkov were on display on announcement day — the smart businessman trying to downplay past frictions with Riis and Contador and later, when facing a barrage of questions over doping, the combative, condescending and boastful Tinkov.
When pressed on the Hamilton allegations in his book The Secret Race, Tinkov could barely restrain himself. We quote from cyclingnews: “Why would I read such a shit? I am mentioned in many, many books, my friend. I am quite famous, so I don’t even bother to read them. I have written myself two books, so what? I don’t read a lot but when I have the time, I read something proper. But not this sort of bullshit,” Tinkov said.
His reactions get worse from there and perhaps the worse job in pro cycling will be that of press relations manager at the new Tinkoff squad. “Zero tolerance to the doping and let’s stop here,” he said. “Fuck your doping questions, I don’t care about doping, I tell you matters of fact. The fact is that I have been involved with teams for five years with zero doping cases. Zero doping cases. So there is no tolerance. Never, ever have my riders been involved in doping, as an owner or a sponsor. Next question.”
On the positive side, since corrupt hack former UCI president Patrick McQuaid is no longer in office, there’s been a deep comedy deficit in pro cycling. We’re confident that Tinkov will provide plenty of entertainment in the next season. It may be boorish and obnoxious but at least we have a target for absurdity.