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Oleg Tinkov accuses Dave Brailsford of "hypocrisy" on zero tolerance - and says Sky weaker without Sean Yates

Tinkoff-Saxo team owner also says Alberto Contador stronger than Chris Froome

Oleg Tinkov claims Sir Dave Brailsford is guilty of “hypocrisy” over Team Sky’s zero tolerance approach to doping, and says the British team is struggling without Sean Yates, who will act as sports director at Tinkoff-Saxo next season. Yates, meanwhile, believes Sky’s riders are struggling to repeat the form that saw them achieve back-to-back Tour de France wins in 2012 and 2013.

Besides Yates, who acted as sports director when Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome sealed a one-two overall finish at the Tour de France in 2012 – Froome would win the 100th edition of the race a year later –  former race coach Bobby Julich has also arrived at Tinkoff Saxo, joining their former Sky colleague Steve De Jongh.

All three left Sky in the wake of October 2012’s publication of the reasoned decision in the Lance Armstrong case by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) – Julich and De Jongh after admitting doping during their racing careers, Yates officially for health and family reasons.

Speaking to Telegraph Sport’s Tom Cary at the team’s recent training camp on Gran Canaria, Tinkov took aim at the ‘zero tolerance’ policy Brailsford has put in place at Sky that led to those departures, saying: “It is true.  It is pure hypocrisy.”

He went on: “I don’t know if he [Brailsford] was pushed by his sponsor, which is [Rupert] Murdoch, to say this, or whether he said it for the sponsor, but it is all hypocrisy.

“It is just nice marketing, if you wish. Zero tolerance? Then your members of team should not be over 30, because anyone over that age will have been involved somehow, directly or indirectly.”

Given his doping ban after testing positive for clenbuterol on the 2010 Tour de France means Tinkoff-Saxo’s star rider, Alberto Contador, would have no chance of riding for Sky.

For his part, Tinkov believes there should be an amnesty within the sport for past dopers, “with everyone’s records wiped clean,” although he adds that “anyone caught breaking the rules in future should face a lifetime ban from the sport. No excuses.”

Despite his view of Sky’s anti-doping policy, the entrepreneur, who has built his fortune through trading goods, brewing and, most recently, financial services, does admit to having “huge respect” for Brailsford.

“He is very smart, he says. “What he has done for the sport ... I haven’t done even half of it yet. He has done a lot for cycling and I respect him for that. But to say such things makes him really shallow.”

With both riders crashing out of this year’s Tour de France early on, fans were denied the opportunity to see Contador and defending champion Chris Froome go head to head. They raced against each other at the Vuelta, with the Spaniard prevailing and Froome finishing second.

“For me Alberto is still the strongest and Froome is his biggest rival,” insisted Tinkov. “I still think that if Alberto had not crashed he would have won the Tour. But next year it is unfair. Alberto confirmed already [that he will race] the Giro and Tour.

“And Nibali and Froome? They already say they go directly to the Tour. That means it is unfair on Alberto. So now if he wins the 2015 Tour, of course he is the best cyclist. There is no doubt. It is like 'shut up’. But if he is second or third, does it make him the second or third strongest rider?

“We never know. So it’s really stupid. We have to have a system, like in tennis, where we have a No 1, No 2 and No 3, and they fight against each other, because the best should be against the best.”

Tinkov also queried Brailsford’s credentials as a sports director, and suggested that Sky had suffered tactically following the departure of Yates.

“Don’t forget Yates won with Wiggins, it was Yates in the car in 2012 ... I think once he left, tactically, Sky they start to be much worse. He was a huge loss for them. Because with all respect to Dave, in the car, tactically, he is probably not the best sport director.”

Yates himself said he was looking forward to being back at the highest level of the sport despite the “disappointment” of leaving Team Sky.

He told Telegraph Sport: “I haven’t said that much about it but obviously I was disappointed. That was then. I’ve moved on and I have really enjoyed the last two years. Being at home more.

“But it’s exciting to be back in the big time. I actually turned down an offer last year to be DS at a WorldTour team. I wanted to be near my [kids, helping them out, so I said no to that.

“I think probably the only team I would have returned for was this one. Ultimately, it was too good an offer to turn down, that’s the bottom line.”

The 54-year-old continued: “Maybe I’m past it but if I don’t try, I don’t know. It’s like one last throw of the dice and we’ll see how it goes. It’s exciting. It feels like when I first joined Sky. They have all these ideas and they feel as if they’re ahead of the opposition.”

He credited his former employers with having brought a fresh approach to the sport, however.

“Until you stepped out of Sky you didn’t realise how slow other teams were. Not that I’m a great thinker by any stretch of the imagination but you pay attention to what’s going on around you.

“My forte is being in the race car, and interpreting what’s happening in a race, what’s happened the day before and what might happen in the future.”

Citing the signing of Peter Sagan, Yates said of Tinkoff-Saxo, “I think they want to step up in all areas. Oleg wants the best team. To be the best you have to be ahead of the opposition — not just one step, but two or three steps. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

He compared Tinkov to his fomer boss at Sky, Brailsford: “Guys like Dave, who did Olympic cycling and then Team Sky, he is that type of guy; constantly pushing himself, coming up with new ideas, innovating, getting new people involved. And that upsets the apple cart.

“Whether that’s something as mundane as having a whacking great fancy bus, as Sky did – all the other teams were like ‘bloody Sky’. But they all went out and got one.”

While Yates wouldn’t be drawn directly on the impact of his departure on Sky, he did question the strength of the British team’s riders this year.

“Tactics are one thing and performance is another,” he said. “If you look at the data they are definitely not performing as they did in the past.

“Ultimately, you can have the best tactics in the world but if the legs aren’t up to it – I don’t want to stir anything. I have my own thoughts. But if they go badly that is better for us. I don’t wish anyone ill,” Yates added.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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