Top races should be shorter and more viewer-friendly, and there should be fewer of them – that is the opinion of Tinkoff-Saxo owner, Oleg Tinkov, who describes cycling’s current business model as ‘neither viable nor durable’.
Writing on the Tinkoff-Saxo website, Tinkov begins: “World cycling has to change… or die, or maybe just lurch from scandal to scandal for another decade as we watch teams come and go.”
Tinkov is critical of the model which sees pro teams almost wholly dependent on sponsorship for their revenue, arguing that the current system is what is responsible for doping and “the whole ‘grey tinge’ of this wonderful sport”.
Making professional cycling less reliant on sponsorship through exploring new revenue streams is one of the main aims of Velon, the joint venture involving 11 UCI WorldTour teams, including Tinkoff-Saxo. Last year, Velon’s CEO, Graham Bartlett, told us he believed that broadcasters, sponsors and new fans ‘would all be excited about a more joined up sport’ and Tinkov is clearly of a similar mind.
“We need to cut the number of races, reduce their duration and make them more viewer-friendly,” he writes, and while he says that “no-one is interested in these provincial races that get no TV coverage,” he concedes that they do have a place in the sport for teams below World Tour level. For the top teams, he proposes more circuit races around cities and as one example floats the idea of a GP Monaco on the Saturday before the motor racing, making use of the same facilities.
“But it is important that the best sprinters come for this kind of event – the best climbers should go to all the grand tours. That is why I proposed the ‘Three Grand Tour Challenge’, which provoked such a heated discussion – which made me very happy! If you want to have a real show, you need to have the very best competing against the very best.”
Tinkov also has plenty to say about the way teams are managed – including his own.
“The times of Sainz, Bruyneel and Riis are over – they were stuck in the 2000s and that is not necessarily about doping. They just don’t get some obvious things and don’t know how to manage teams in modern way. Managing a team is not just about issuing instructions from a car radio or about casting a spell over the riders at which Riis was unsurpassed, for example. Managing a team is about boring, monotonous work in the office.”
This then leads him to pay his team director what is presumably intended as a compliment. “The day of the boring and meticulous managers has come – guys like Dave Brailsford and, I hope, our new director Stefano Feltrin.”
Tinkov claims he is not considering the ‘torrent of offers’ he has received to replace the recently-sacked Bjarne Riis, arguing that the team already has all the expertise it needs. However, this didn’t prevent him from publishing a typically mischievous April Fool’s Day tweet in which he suggested that Lance Armstrong had been hired as general manager.