Saturday, 12 December 2015

Bye bye Tinkov?

According to an interview with Cyclingnews, many cycling supporters Twitter feeds may contain a lot less controversial content as the UCI's biggest fan has indicated he wants to sell his team after the 2016 season. While it is not unknown for Oleg Tinkov to throw all his toys (and blankets, bottles and anything else) out of his pram before a volte-face and continuing as if nothing happened, there appears to be a bit more substance this time. 

He again brings up the fact that the world of pro-cycling is not changing quickly enough for him which really gets to the heart of the issue. Tinkov is a business man and he obviously thought he would be the person to bring about a wholesale revolution in how the sport runs to make it a profitable endeavour. However the existing model, where teams are run primarily by people who love the sport and use its promotional opportunities to promote their main businesses as opposed to making money solely from participation has proved harder to shift than Tinkov first thought.

When I first saw the Cyclingnews report my first thoughts were "don't let the door hit you on the arse on the way out" and I stand by that. People will argue that any injection of money and a chance to make cycling more sustainable should be welcomed. However Tinkov is not, and will not be a solution. His old fashioned view that his workers are simply assets to be exploited might have worked OK in running his credit card or brewery businesses, but in a sport like cycling where it is both the mental and physical sides that need nurturing, it can be, and was counterproductive. I am not saying that Tinkov would support and encourage doping, but it is easy to see how a similar mindset could possibly provide under-pressure and under-performing riders with the motivation to go beyond paniagua of their own volition. Obviously a billionaire getting even richer off the labours of people to whom he wants to pay as little as possible  is how the world currently works but that doesn't mean it needs to be encouraged. 

Of course there is now an open door again for Mr 60% to reappear and buy his team back from Tinkov, which again is not an ideal situation. However a team with Majka and Sagan still in contract until 2017 would be a prime catch so maybe someone could come in and get in before Riis- but who? (As an aside and this is just my own thinking outloud- could Tinkov stepping away provide motivation for Contador to postpone his own planned retirement next year?)

I am not some sort of Luddite and I do recognise the need for the sport to change and develop-however in my humble opinion it is not Tinkov's approach that will do that. Maybe we have to recognise that cycling is not F1 or soccer and that any attempt to capitalise using any of those models is destined to fail. Road racing does not happen in an enclosed venue. Televising it is difficult-I was at an event addressed by Matt Rendell in 2014 and he made the point that you can't really televise a race-instead you are trying to capture many different narratives happening at the same time, each of which will have a different significance for different viewers. Stages take hours, and sometimes the only action can come within the last 4km of almost 200km. It takes commitment, dedication and good organisational ability to be a cycling fan- you don't just turn on the TV at 3pm and turn it off just over 90mins later. All of these are barriers to drawing in more fans and revenue streams. Generally sponsors are having to appeal to a specific demographic- slashing riders wages and calling them names on Twitter is not going to address any of these issues. Like many in his field, Tinkov is a narcissist who thinks the world revolves around them and things should be changed to solely suit their worldview. This latest interview could be simply another temper tantrum, but if Oleg did finally make good on his promise then I feel the sport can only benefit. Yes, it will make the life of some cycling hacks a bit more difficult since using his tweets as the basis for stories filled up copy, but many riders and fans will breathe a sense of relief as the circus moves on- plus the journalists can go back to articles on what colour shorts the World Champion should wear...

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