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With unlimited budget, Tinkov chases top riders for 2015

With an unlimited budget, Tinkoff-Saxo’s owner says he will sign a handful of “stars” to further bolster his squad for 2015

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BASSANO DEL GRAPPA, Italy (VN) — He stood there, arms folded, kitted up, and smiling the smile of someone without a care in the world.

He leaned against a car with his name on it, handed off a stealth Specialized S-Works, also with his name on it, to someone else. “It’s like Oscar Wilde said,” Oleg Tinkov declared. “I’m a simple guy. I simply love the best.”

Tinkov, the owner of Tinkoff-Saxo, was all smiles and possibility at the Giro d’Italia. He rode a bulk of the stages and posted up with his team after. On the day of the stage 19 time trial, he promised a big offseason for a team that seems to find itself without the financial constraints that hamper so many others.

What Tinkov wants of his team is simple enough: the best.

“Number one in the world. I am simple. I want to be the best team. That’s it. We don’t want anything more than that. To be the first, that’s enough,” he said, serious enough to believe him.

In Alberto Contador, Tinkoff-Saxo has one of the world’s best riders again. And what the team may add in the coming offseason could make the yellow and blue squad the world’s most formidable. Tinkov has been rumored to be chasing Peter Sagan (Cannondale), for one.

“Yeah but there are a lot of rumors. But we of course are talking to all the guys since we want to build the best team. We are talking to all of these guys like Sagan. We’re interested in [Edvald] Boasson Hagen (Sky) as well. We’re interested in a lot of guys. I mean good guys who are available. We’re talking to them. But we cannot sign before first of August, that’s why we have to wait,” Tinkov said. “We definitely will sign two, three more stars who can help Alberto next year for the Tour. And maybe somebody to help Rafal [Majka] for the next Giro. Yeah, we’re on the market. And we are quite active. Haha.”


Some team leaders and owners dread this sort of thing, where their hard-earned and developed young talent (like Sagan, who’s always raced for Cannondale professionally) hit free agency. But Tinkov seems to revel in this realm of possibility. Money, and lots of it, helps. He made piles of it when he took his online banking company public.

“I’ve built one of the most successful, if not the best, bank in Russia. At least it’s the biggest online bank in Russia right now,” he said. “And I made a lot of money and we made the company public. And now I say, ‘Oh, it’s time to come back to the cycling.’ And now I’m back in the sport and always feel that that’s a big opportunity to sponsor, because cycling is still a very cheap sport to sponsor. I have a lot of exposure for quite little money.”

Tinkov made his money in banking only after launching a successful beer brewing company and introducing racy marketing and international brewing standards. The 46-year-old is estimated to be worth $790 million, according to Forbes.

Tinkov called Ivan Basso an “interesting” target. As for looking at signing Bradley Wiggins (Sky), the 2012 Tour de France champion, he said, “If he’s available we can look at Wiggins. There’s nothing wrong. He has a strong time trial.” Tinkov laughed after he spoke.

The Russian said he doesn’t have a budget for the team, and that its bottom line would be based on available riders. “I think the budget we can tell you like in September. Now it depends who we buy. Maybe [Chris] Froome is available tomorrow.”

Tinkov laughed again.

“Then we buy Froome and put him on Giro d’Italia next year and Alberto will be winning [the] Tour and Froome is Giro d’Italia.”

Imagine that. With pockets as deep as Tinkov’s, there isn’t much that’s far fetched. He remains committed to Contador, but has ambitions for the team other than the Tour de France.

“The team is still around him, however we want to really improve [in the] classics. We want to improve the spring campaign, but he’s No. 1 guy,” Tinkov said. “And he goes for Vuelta, he goes for Tour. And I’m quite confident he will win it.”

Confidence. Should we expect anything else?