Bjarne Riis and Oleg Tinkov’s relationship appears as cold as the coming Danish winter. Tinkov pulled his sponsorship and despite rumours otherwise, said he has not bought Riis’ Saxo Bank team.
“There’s nothing to it,” said Tinkov legal advisor, Stefano Feltrin. “It’s gossip.”
The rumour according to Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper is that Riis, suffering financially and fighting more doping claims, will sell his Danish team to the Russian businessman. Riis would stay as team manager to please star rider Alberto Contador, who fell out with Tinkov during the Tour de France.
Tinkov owned his own team Tinkoff Credit Systems until 2008 and became co-sponsor of Riis’s Saxo Bank team in 2012. He criticised Contador on Twitter during the Tour (“His salary doesn’t match his performance… He must work harder.”) but later told Cycling Weekly @olegtinkov was not his account.
He used the social media website yesterday to comment on the takeover rumour. “It is indeed nice to be rich and famous :-)!!!” Tinkov wrote. “They writes articles on you around the world, and usually ridiculous stuff, but entertains.”
His attention after the Tour turned to buying team Cannondale’s licence. Feltrin said, “We were very close.” The Italian side of the team was ready to sell its share and let Tinkov deal directly with majority owner, Cannondale. The deal reportedly fell through because the Cannondale’s brass was uncomfortable with Tinkov having complete control of the licence.
“We still have proposals out there with first and second division teams, also with Riis,” added Feltrin, “but Oleg wants to be the owner and the sponsor.”
The rumours play on Riis’ current problems. Saxo Bank had to step up its involvement to fill the void of Tinkov’s sponsorship money. It announced on October 10 that it will help with 2014 while Riis continues to search for a second sponsor.
Saxo Bank’s faith is being tested though as Riis continues to come under fire. The Dane admitted in 2007 that he doped his way to win the 1996 Tour and according to recent allegations, continued his ways as a general manager. In their separate books, Tyler Hamilton and Michael Rasmussen said Riis helped his riders cheat. Rasmussen, who was kicked out of the 2007 Tour for missing doping controls, rode for Riis’ CSC team in 2001 and 2002 and released his Yellow Fever book this week.
Saxo Bank did not respond to Cycling Weekly’s question regarding the team’s licence. However, Press Officer Allan Jorgensen said on Sky Sports’ website, “We have not sold to Oleg.”