Velon CEO Graham Bartlett sees Oleg Tinkov's departure from cycling as bad for the sport, but a potential wake-up call for those in the sport to work together on its future

Love him or loathe him, Oleg Tinkov will be missed in cycling when he departs at the end of 2016, or at least his passion for cycling and his willingness to pump money into the sport will, according to Velon CEO Graham Bartlett.

The Russian millionaire has divided opinion during his tenure as a team owner, first with Tinkoff Credit Systems and more recently with the Tinkoff team. It’s not just the fans whose feathers he ruffles either, its fellow team owners, rival sponsors and even the sport’s governing body the UCI.

As one of the founding members of Velon, the Tinkoff team will be missed by the organisation if, as is likely, it folds at the end of the season. Speaking to Cycling Weekly, Bartlett explained how the organisation is pushing for similar reforms in the sport that Tinkov has been calling for for years.

>>> Oleg Tinkov: ‘I never regret the tweets I send’

While some sponsors are pulling out of cycling because of the numerous drug scandals seen in the past decade, others, like Tinkov, simply no longer see any financial benefits of supporting cycling in its current form.

“However you view Oleg Tinkov as a person, you cannot see [his departure] as anything but bad for cycling,” Bartlett says.

“Here’s somebody who’s made an enormous amount of investment in cycling who’s now leaving the sport. How could anybody view that other than that’s bad?

“Personally, I’m very sorry to see [him pull his investment] and I think the sport needs to look long and hard at itself and say, ‘why is that happening?’

“And this is not the first time this has happened. You can go back to HTC, you got back to other teams that were there and are now not there – it’s incredibly damaging to the riders – what happens to those riders when that team folds?

“These people, they’ve got families, they’ve got mortgages, what happens if that can’t continue? The staff, the people that work there – it’s just wrong.”

Tinkoff cyclists training in 2015

Oleg Tinkov’s team, full of high-profile stars like Alberto Contador and Peter Sagan, could be over this year

According to Tinkov himself, he has spent over €60m on supporting cycling over the past decade. The economic situation in Russia has forced Tinkov, who has reportedly seen his wealth drop from $1.4bn to $500m during the recent global recession, to reassess his sponsorship commitments.

But another key factor in his departure is his opinion that no-one in cycling wants to work with his ideas of how to improve the business model of the sport.

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Bartlett agrees that the business model of cycling is not sustainable. Sponsors like Tinkov put money into the sport and don’t necessarily see a return on that investment. After all, not all sponsors are in love with the sport of cycling as much as Oleg Tinkov – many of them are investing purely for business.

“I think it’s incredibly difficult to have a sporting business model whereby you rely upon somebody to constantly put money in and not give them any opportunity to [work on it as] a long-term investment,” he says

“That needs to change and I completely agree with the comments Oleg has made about that. They are essential to why Velon was created – to change that business model and [I believe] we can.

“I think it will come too late for Mr Tinkov but we’ve got to carry on that work because we’ve got to believe that eventually, one day, we will fix it.”

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Cycling is pretty unique in the way it attracts money. Unlike sports like football, the vast majority of spectators at a cycling race will not have paid money to be there. Some won’t invest in the sport at the merchandise stalls, or in the town or city that the race passes through in the bars and cafes.

Towns pay significant sums of money to host the start or finish of a stage of the Tour de France, but much of that money goes towards staging the race in the first place. For every big race like the Tour de France, which probably makes a fair amount of money each year, there are dozens of races that struggle to break even.

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The fact that the system is so fragmented is one of the main problems with cycling’s long-term stability, according to Velon, and Bartlett is keen to bring all interested parties towards one common position to work together on making the sport a more viable business investment.

Bartlett says: “If you look at models in other sports you see a joined-up business plan across the board that benefits each of the different stakeholders. That means they’ve all got a common interest to drive the sport forward.

“In cycling, you’ve got an incredibly fragmented structure where they do not link up together and that stops the sport from moving forward both from a business, but also from a fan perspective.

“Why has there not been the investment in technology in cycling? The answer to that, to me, is very, very clear – cycling is fragmented.

“If one team said, ‘we’re going to take this on,’ or one rider said, ‘I’m going to take this on and do it,’ he couldn’t do it. If one organiser said, ‘I’m going to take this on and do it,’ it’s very, very hard.

“What it needs is for the whole sport to say, ‘this is how we’re going to do it, we’ll all take it on.’

“But to do that you need to have a common position to make it work and that’s what we want bring about.”

  • Stevo

    In any field of business people come and go. I can’t see why this gentleman should be viewed as something special. Also, I suspect that if people like “cleaners up” do “miss” him, it will be because they have lost their jobs rather than because they are “interested in cycling”.

  • Weccy

    I don’t think Europecar would agree. They ran a good team for years but had to admit defeat last year. Shame to see many of their main riders split up

  • David Bassett

    It is not the UCI’s job to provide money for teams, Tat is for the team owners to look for advertising.

  • David Bassett

    Reading all the comments I would still say he will not be missed. Teams come and go, but it is strange how many are around for many many years. Until the Russians change their attitude to sport they will not be missed. As for the riders and every one else they will get work. There is meant to be two teams looking for his licence, three if you take into account that Contador is also meant to be having a new team. Cycling teams are not a money making venture. They are a method for advertising your product. That costs, if you sell more from advertising then your money has been well spent. People who think they can actually make money out of our sport and treat its riders and I would think the rest of the team are not wanted in our sport. like he does

  • Sutton Atkins

    That’s kinda my point. It seems that the world is messed up because “being a millionaire” is seen as a better goal than being a nice and polite. I’d rathe robe nice and polite than a billionaire arrogant loud-mouth. … Where did our values go?

  • llos25

    You do not become a millionaire or billionaire by being nice and polite not in this world.

  • Sutton Atkins

    The term alpha-males seems to carry a positive or at least respected connotation in the modern society we call “developed”. The origin of the phrase comes from packs of wolves. I thought, and hoped we had evolved further from simple animalistic behaviours. Apparently not. It’s a shame the western world is devolving.

  • William

    arrogant, boisterous, know it all, loud-mouth, billionaires

    They are called alpha males.

  • Sutton Atkins

    Although what Tinkoff says about the financial structure of cycling may be correct, I do not believe it is a sad day that he personally is leaving. His manor of “discussion” and his aggressive attitude remind me of Donald Trump. I believe our whole culture is being over-run with arrogant, boisterous, know it all, loud-mouth, billionaires, and I don’t believe it is a healthy direction, culturally. However, the departure of “Tinkoff the businnes man” is possibly a signal that the financial structure of cycling is non-sustainable. But surely there are other billionaires out there who are respectful, intelligent, genuine, polite, etc?

  • William

    Is the problem with cycling too many rules, and hence too many restrictions, from too many governing bodies? I’m not sure where the problem lies. The article’s author repeatedly says it is because of a fragmented system. What does that mean?

  • MrHaematocrit

    Tinkoff want reasonable value for his investment which is understandable, the amount of money spent is not the issue.
    With its lower TV and media coverage, fewer high profile races and fewer megastar cyclists do you feel women’s cycling in its current form is in a position to provide good value for sponsors?
    It might be cheaper but like the rest of procycling it needs a rethink imho

  • Weccy

    Hear hear. Well said. Green eyes of jealousy are not pretty

  • Weccy

    The UCI,. the FIA, FIFA, French Gov with Le Tour are all the same. They put their earnings before providing money for teams with which to operate. The operating bodies suck the life blood out of the Sport. Other sports charge spectators to view, thankfully our sport at the roadside is free for the moment. Unfortunately tv spectators are held to ransom by Sky etc with Eurosport. Hardly surprising the likes of Oleg Tinkov are withdrawing support.Who will Peta Sagan & his cohorts be racing for next year?

  • RobTM

    Yes, but it’s hard to sympathise with his whining.. sponsering sport’s team isn’t meant to be profit centre. He could have found good satisfying sport at a lower level that cost him less

  • llos25

    I will and so will pro cycling racing so will the UCI and all the people he pays wages to from the pro riders to cleaners up yes he will be missed.But I suppose not everybody is interested in cycling.

  • llos25

    But he can do what he wants with his own money can’t he.

  • RobTM

    It’s hard to feel sorry for a guy with “only” £500,000,000 isn’t it? He could have helped a women’s team out of his petty cash, rather than going for high profile high end if he needed to save a bob or 2

  • David Bassett

    Well I won’t miss him.