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Tinkov vows tighter checkbook following Sagan saga

The Russian millionaire says he won't do "crazy things" this season by signing riders for big money

Don’t expect Oleg Tinkov to be making million-dollar deals in the rider market this season. Still stung from the high price that came with Peter Sagan, the Russian team owner vows not to do what he described as “crazy things” this year.

Tinkov isn’t shy about criticizing others (click here and here to see recent excerpts), but he’s also quick to admit his own errors. And he told VeloNews he won’t be opening up his checkbook again like he did last year.

“I have to be wise not to do crazy things like I did with Peter Sagan one year ago,” Tinkov told VeloNews. “I was new, I have to admit, but my strength is that I admit my mistakes. I try to analyze and not repeat them.”

This time last year, rumors were flying that Tinkov was opening his checkbook and signing riders at any price. Several top names were linked to possible moves to Tinkoff-Saxo, but the biggest fish of all was Sagan.

Tinkov couldn’t resist signing the precocious Slovak who seemed poised for a major breakout victory in the classics after stampeding through the peloton in his first five pro seasons. With Cannondale merging with Garmin, Sagan was the biggest name on the market last year, and Tinkov just had to have him.

In a three-year deal said to be agreed upon in the spring of 2014 and officially announced last summer, Tinkov shelled out big bucks for Sagan, who is earning an estimated salary of nearly $5 million per year. Sagan’s recent run of success, including the overall victory at the Amgen Tour of California and a stage victory at the Tour de Suisse this week, bodes well within the team, but Tinkov didn’t sign Sagan to win stages at California.

After Sagan’s flat classics campaign, where the Slovak wasn’t a major factor in the monuments, Tinkov is still smarting at shelling out so much money on Sagan.

“Last year, I was new, I was overexcited in the market, and some agents tried to leverage this. They overinflated the prices, and took advantage of my excitement,” Tinkov continued. “Last year, I did a few signings that were above the market. I showed that I have financial strength. When you are a new player, sometimes you want to come in and create your space. I have to admit that I should not have paid that kind of money, and I will definitely not pay that kind of money again. So now the agents can relax now, and not trick me again.”

Tinkov said he won’t be a major player on the rider market this year. With his core leaders staying put for 2016, including Sagan, Alberto Contador, and Rafal Majka, Tinkov promised there will not be any big signings for 2016. A quick check with a few agents this week confirmed this posture.

“We will be active, but nothing like last year. We are now 30 riders, and we would like to even reduce that. I think we will buy two or three riders. We are not active like last year. With Contador, Sagan, and Majka, we have a very solid base,” Tinkov said. “I do not have an unlimited budget, like Astana or Katusha, which has government money to help them. My pockets are not endless. I have to be wise in 2016 not to do crazy things.”

Despite rumors that the team’s finances have taken a hit due to turmoil in the Russian economy, Tinkov assured VeloNews there are contracts in place for at least 2016, but hinted Saxo Bank might leave after this season.

“The only thing that could change is that Saxo Bank leaves, but they always operated on a year-to-year contract. Their contract usually happens during the Tour,” he said. “It’s their decision, and we are happy if they stay, but if they leave, it means more space for Tinkoff on the jersey.”

Tinkov said he’s learned his lesson by paying top dollar for established stars, and vowed to invest in younger riders and help nurture new talent for the future. The math is simple; possible results come cheaper than proven results, but for Tinkov, who knows that, just like in the stock market, past performance does not guarantee future returns.

“Other teams have done the same thing. I will never pay crazy money again. I don’t like the idea to pay for past results, I would rather buy potential,” he said. “A superstar rider is questionable in cycling. Many teams have made this mistake. They buy the top big names, and now they are not performing. That is a risky business.”