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Russian banking mogul Oleg Tinkov has assumed ownership of the Saxo-Tinkoff team and Riis Cycling, the team confirmed in a press conference on Monday in London. Tinkov, who was set to depart as a co-title sponsor of the Danish team at year’s end has instead taken control of the UCI ProTeam from now former owner Bjarne Riis and will change its ownership group to Tinkoff Sport.
The ownership transfer is effective immediately and Tinkov is the sole owner. The team will begin the 2014 season as Tinkoff-Saxo. Tinkoff Credit Systems Bank is one of Russia’s most prominent credit card companies.
Despite appearing at odds with Tinkov during a 2013 season that saw disappointing results at the Tour de France, Alberto Contador took part in the press conference and is expected to stay on at the team.
“I believe this day is a great day for my team and I will say it is actually a day I have been dreaming of for a very long time. I’ll say years. And I look forward to this because it shows I have done some right things, some good things for this sport,” said Riis. “I am happy to announce that Oleg Tinkov will be the new owner of the team.”
Riis said that he would continue as the team’s general manager for “at least three years,” and that he welcomed the opportunity to focus on the sporting side instead of sponsorship.
Tinkov previously owned the Tinkoff Credit Systems team in 2007-08. That squad grew into Katusha after Tinkov’s departure.
“It’s my private money and it’s my passion,” said Tinkov. “Finally, my dream comes true. I have my top level team. I have Bjarne, the top sport director, and I have the best rider (Contador).”
Contador and Riis appeared uneasy at times during the press conference, but the Spaniard said that his tensions with Tinkov were resolved. The Russian criticized Contador over Twitter during the 2013 season and the former Tour champion has been linked to a new project headed by Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.
“I think in this time when there is a dearth of new sponsors, it can only be a good thing that Oleg Tinkov brings his money to the sport,” Contador said, through presenter and translator Matt Rendell. “I can tell you that Oleg and I have spent a lot of time together and whatever happened this year is well behind us.”
Monday marks the end of a 14-year ownership run for Riis. The 49-year-old began the team as Home-Jack & Jones in 2000. He guided it to grand tour and classics wins but dealt with controversy along the way.
In 2007 Riis admitted he doped en route to his 1996 Tour win. His Italian star, Ivan Basso, quit the 2006 Tour before it began and admitted his involvement in the Operación Puerto doping affair. Former riders Michael Rasmussen and Tyler Hamilton said that Riis encouraged them to dope.
When asked whether he was selling the team due to ongoing an doping investigation in Denmark, Riis said no. The Dane is reported to be under investigation for having facilitated doping at his team during the 2000s.
“Absolutely not, because these are pure speculations,” he said. “As I said before, there are reasons I am doing this, and it is what it is.”
Tinkov said he knew nothing about the Danish investigation and that what happened at Riis Cycling prior to his sponsorship was “none of my business.” He also said that the team would have to follow any doping rulings made surrounding Riis.
Tinkov called doping in cycling “over,” and pointed to a need for improved support systems for riders that utilize scientific and pyschological programs to improve performance. In 2012 American Tyler Hamilton, who rode for Tinkoff Credit Systems in 2007 before being suspended over ties to Operación Puerto, accused the Russian of telling him do what he needed to get results, “just don’t get caught.”
Gregor Brown contributed to this report.