Russian businessman Oleg Tinkov will make an announcement Monday believed to pertain to his efforts to acquire ownership of a UCI ProTeam. Tinkov tells VeloNews he will address the matter of his backing at a press conference in London.
Though the billionaire, who co-sponsored Bjarne Riis’ Saxo-Tinkoff squad in 2013, has reportedly been in conversation with a number of organizations, recent speculation has centered on Tinkov’s assumption — in whole or in part — of Riis’ ownership stake in the current Saxo squad.
Despite a strained 2013, during which Tinkov was an outspoken critic of the team’s Tour de France performance, the Russian attended the team’s recent training camp in Gran Canaria, according to the website feltet.dk.
On Saturday, Tinkov tweeted a photograph of Alberto Contador and Michael Morkov, along with the caption, “Conta is getting ready to kick ass of Froome))) and I am behind it YET.”
Tinkov’s enthusiastic, real-time support of Contador may be the surest indication that a deal with Riis is imminent. The Russian pulled few punches in his assessment of the Spaniard’s 2013 Tour performance, questioning both the rider’s commitment and worth.
After online reports linked Contador to a prospective new team in September, Tinkov — who had already announced his intent to sever ties with Riis — tweeted that he might have second thoughts about leaving if Contador was no longer in the mix.
Adding fuel to speculation over a prospective regime change was the reported presence of two Russian riders in Gran Canaria: Nikolay Trusov and Ivan Rovny, both of whom rode previously as members of the UCI Pro Continental Tinkoff Credit Systems squad. (Among those absent from team activities was 2012 U.S. road champion Timmy Duggan, who announced earlier this week he would not be continuing as a member of the squad.)
Should Riis liquidate ownership, it is widely believed he would stay on as team manager during 2014 despite a growing host of problems. The Dane, who has admitted to doping during his own 1996 Tour de France win, is currently under investigation by the Danish Anti-Doping Authority following accusations that he has also been complicit in the doping of his teams’ riders.
Riis maintains his innocence in the face of accusations published in two recent books (Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle’s The Secret Race and Michael Rasmussen’s Yellow Fever), but with a final report due before the end of the year, a handoff to Tinkov could be well timed for a variety of reasons.
Whether at Saxo or elsewhere, indications suggest Tinkov is prepared to assume an expanded role in 2014.
“[I’ve] always dreamed to go to the sport’s highest level,” Tinkov told VeloNews. “Now I have this possibility.”