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Tinkov’s advice to Alonso: ‘Buy your own team’

  • By Andrew Hood
  • Published May. 30, 2014
  • Updated May. 30, 2014 at 2:25 PM EST
Oleg Tinkov knows what it's like to build a new team. He started his own team in 2006, Tinkoff Credit Systems, before selling it in 2008 to Russian oligarch Igor Makarov, who used the team's infrastructure and, more importantly, existing license, to build Katusha. When Tinkov returned to cycling in 2013, he bought a license from Bjarne Riis. Photo by Tim de Waele.

BASSANO DEL GRAPPA, Italy (VN) — Oleg Tinkov has a bit of advice for Formula One champion Fernando Alonso’s arrival into cycling: Buy a team.

The Russian millionaire entrepreneur said he welcomes the Spanish superstar’s plans to own a cycling team, but told VeloNews that buying a team is a lot easier than building a team from scratch.

“My advice would be to buy a team. That’s what I did,” Tinkov told VeloNews. “I know he wants to do his own team, but you lose two to three years. I do not believe that next year he will perform to be in Tour.”

Tinkov, 47, made waves last year when he co-sponsored Bjarne Riis’s team, slipping in as second sponsor with his bank, Tinkoff Bank, behind title sponsor Saxo Bank.

Last fall, after some lengthy wrangling and negotiating, Riis finally decided to sell the team license to Tinkov for an estimated 6 million euros.

Tinkov knows what it’s like to build a new team. He started his own team in 2006, Tinkoff Credit Systems, before selling it in 2008 to Russian oligarch Igor Makarov, who used the team’s infrastructure and, more importantly, existing license, to build Katusha.

When Tinkov returned to cycling in 2013 after making millions by creating Russia’s largest online bank, and then selling off shares in a public stock offering, he knew it would be easier to buy into an existing team.

“In the beginning, Bjarne struggled to understand his position. He is the sport director. He is the main guy on the team,” Tinkov said. “I am just the guy who pays the bills.”

Alonso, meanwhile, continues to insist that his cycling project still has gas. Despite things going quiet over the past several months, Alonso attended the Giro d’Italia on Thursday, and used the opportunity to reassure the cycling community he plans to have a team ready for 2015.

Alonso  backed out of a chance to buy the Euskaltel-Euskadi team at the end of the 2013 season, and confirmed Thursday his intention to build his own team from scratch, but at least two major teams are rumored to be struggling to find new title sponsors for the 2015 season.

Tinkov, ever the businessman, said that offers up a perfect opportunity for Alonso.

“He’d be better off to buy a team,” Tinkov said. “I know he has his own consultants, but if I were him, I would look for a team that is struggling, and buy one of them.”

Many, however, say the Alonso team has stalled and it’s not actively trying to sign key available riders who are up for contract at the end of 2014. Although riders cannot officially be signed until August 1, most deals are already hammered out behind the scenes months in advance.

So far, it’s Tinkov who is rumored to be cherry-picking the peloton’s top available talent, including rumors that he’s signed Peter Sagan, a rider formerly linked to Alonso.

If Alonso jumped in, the rider market would heat up considerably, something the flamboyant Tinkov is ready to take on.

“I like the idea that Alonso is coming. He will bring his smart ideas from Formula One,” Tinkov said. “It’s very positive that he is coming to the sport. We will see more competition for riders, and maybe prices will go up, but overall it’s very good a guy like Alonso comes to cycling.”

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Andrew Hood

Andrew Hood

Andrew Hood cut his journalistic teeth at Colorado dailies before the web boom opened the door to European cycling in the mid-1990s. Hood has covered every Tour de France since 1996 and has been VeloNews' European correspondent since 2002.

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