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Interview with Oleg Tinkov and Stefano Feltrin

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Tinkoff-Saxo owner Oleg Tinkov and CEO Stefano Feltrin are keen to share their enthusiasm for the team, and its unique place the sport of cycling and ambitions for the season and beyond

OLEG TINKOV

Oleg Tinkov is the owner and main sponsor of Tinkoff-Saxo. As well as being known as a highly successful businessman, Oleg has a great passion for the sport of cycling. Being both the leader and a fan gives him an enviable position and great insight, here he shares it with us:

On if he was the UCI President…

I would try to commercialise cycling. Teams need money in order to develop their training bases, to hire the best talent in nutrition and physicians, and to fight doping. This money should be coming not only from sponsors, but also from race organisers and the UCI.

On why he wanted his own team…

I don’t believe in pure sponsorship in modern cycling: once you pay the bills as the sponsor, you ultimately own the team, but have no document on it. I prefer to have this certificate.

On buying a team rather than building one from scratch…

It is long and complicated, that’s why I believe that Alonso eventually will buy or join an existing team. On top of that, Bjarne Riis is by far the best sport director in the peloton, and we have one of the strongest team line-ups. Besides money, I bring enthusiasm, passion and love of cycling to the team.

On the aims for the season…

It is still a transition year, but I hope we will be good even in 2014. We target some classics, the Tour and La Vuelta. I hope Rafael Majka will make a showdown in May in Italy too.

On the importance of science…

I believe that cycling today is what you eat, how you recover, and discipline. Science is very important: we will create nutrition and diet programs, hire smart physicians and sign more strong riders.

On the team’s five year plan…

To be the strongest, most respectable and BEST team in the world.

On the biggest challenges facing the team…

To hire the best talents and scientists.

 On the challenges ahead…

Business is always full of challenges and, usually, what you predict is not what actually happened – and vice versa.

On doping…

I do [have a zero tolerance policy]. But don’t exactly understand what it means. For today’s riders and staff I very much do, but I cannot to dig into their past – it gets us nowhere; the peloton would end up with NO directors and staff, they all came from the era of the Seventies, Eighties, Nineties, and Noughties.

On his favourite race…

One of my favourite races is Flanders. I also like Roubaix. But of course the Giro and the Tour are good, too.

On building a bank versus a cycling team…

It is the same. You work with very ambitious human beings, and need to manage their expectations and egos. People are always difficult to manage. I believe that all of the business and management strategies can be directly applied to the sport management.

On what other sports he’d invest in…

I love cycling, and this is not about the investment, but passion. Therefore, I am not interested in investing in any other sport.

 

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STEFANO FELTRIN

Tinkoff-Saxo CEO Stefano Feltrin is an expert in business and law – as well as being an avid cyclist, and has been Oleg’s business partner since he became team owner. Here is his perspective on building and managing the team, and the forthcoming season and beyond.

On how the team is managed and structured…

The team management has a dual focus: I am responsible for all the commercial matters and for the administration of the team while Bjarne Riis is in charge of all the sport and performance side of the team.

On Bjarne Riis’s role…

Bjarne is now able to focus 100% on coaching the riders and help them to perform at their best, having much more time to dedicate to them rather than to the economics behind the company.

On the change since Oleg’s purchase of the team…

There is more financial stability and a long term program with a vision to bring in the best professionals in each key positions – and by allowing the great people we already have in our team to focus on what they can do best. We will also bring more science into the training and more data analysis in the decision making process to bank on all the small marginal gains we can obtain with always better equipment, training methods, nutrition, etc.

On the direction of the team…

We are not changing things radically; the team had a very strong foundation and solid basis so we are building on them to develop an already good platform.

On changes to training…

We are working to improve it but the fundamentals are there already.

On the importance of science…

A scientific approach is of essence to understand what works and what doesn’t. In the last few years the gaps between winning a grand tour or not reaching the podium is calculated in seconds, not minutes anymore. Thus we need to optimise all aspect of a cycling race.

On how to stay ahead of other teams…

[We will do this] with hard work and dedication with a goal to constantly improve in all areas.

On becoming the best team in the world…

It is our clear goal. We know it needs time but that’s where we want to be.

On rival teams…

We respect all the teams in the peloton and I am keen on judging what others do without knowing where they come from. I have managed pro-continental teams in the past and I know how difficult it is to manage a low budget venture.

On when the team will win a Grand Tour…

Hopefully it will be as soon as this May in the Giro or July in the Tour de France. We are very happy with the team we have: it is super strong and motivated.

On the plans for 2015…

Same as this year: become the best team – and if we have already become the best, just stay there as the best – which doesn’t mean that we can sit still without keeping on improving.

On the importance of being international…

We believe that having an international approach allows us to get the best of every approach and lifestyle. Our staff is from several different nationalities and we take pride in bringing everybody together with the same team spirit.

On his favourite races…

The Giro d’Italia, because Italy is beautiful and the racing is always very spectacular.

On the differences between cycling and Formula 1…

I was lucky enough to have had professional experience in several sports from yachting to Formula 1 and ice hockey. The challenges may differ in the details but when you are dealing with world class athletes and competitions, high end hospitality programs and logistic there are many similarities.

On the most important lesson learned from yachting…

To believe in hard work and preparation, to respect others and the elements.

 

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