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Russian backer to end support of leading UCI WorldTour team

UCI WorldTour cycling team Tinkoff-Saxo is on the lookout for a new main sponsor after owner Oleg Tinkov said his Russian banking group Tinkoff Credit Systems will withdraw its backing at the end of the 2016 season.

Tinkov is putting the leading team up for sale, telling the CyclingNews website that he has made the decision for both commercial and personal reasons. In December 2013, Tinkoff Credit Systems became the main title sponsor of the squad after founder, Russian entrepreneur Tinkov, agreed a takeover deal for the team.

Under the agreement, Tinkoff Credit Systems, the only Russian bank specialising in credit cards, became the main title sponsor of the team over the three-year period running from 2014 to 2016.

However, Tinkov told CyclingNews that Tinkoff Credit Systems has achieved its marketing goals through the relationship, adding that he is disappointed with lack of support for his attempts to change the business model of professional cycling and reduce teams’ dependency on sponsorship.

“All the contracts and sponsorships are in place for 2016 but it will be the last season in the sport for Tinkoff Bank and for me,” Tinkov said. “There are two main reasons for my decision and I hope people will understand them and then reflect on why professional cycling has lost a guy who has spent over €60m ($65m) and who loves the sport.

“First of all, Tinkoff Bank has sponsored the team for five years and from a marketing point of view that’s enough. We’re not a global bank, the economic situation in Russia is not great and my marketing people tell me that we’ve reached all the investors we can via cycling and sports sponsorship. We’ve decided we have to switch our advertising budget to direct TV advertising in 2017. That’s the logical, business side of my decision. The other half is more complex and a lot more personal and is why I refuse to use any of my personal wealth going forward.”

Tinkov is renowned as a colourful character in the cycling community and reserved strong words for what he sees as failed attempts to reform the business model of the sport. He has criticised the International Cycling Union (UCI), dismissing its plans to give three-year licences to teams from 2017.

“The UCI are stupid guys,” he said. “It’s pretty simple to solve cycling’s problems. Teams need to have equity so they can survive and develop. We need licences for at least five years, not just three years. We need a transfer market like in football, so that I could perhaps now sell (star rider) Peter Sagan and make money. Sadly nobody has a strategic view or a real business plan for professional cycling. Everyone follows a 12-month view. But I’m a businessman and work with a 60-month view or even 90 month-view. Nobody can plan, and work with just a 12-month strategy. You won’t achieve anything.”

Slovakia’s Sagan (pictured) and Poland’s Rafa Majka are currently the only Tinkoff-Saxo riders to have contracts for 2017. CyclingNews said team chief executive Stefano Feltrin is working to find new sponsorship and a new owner for the squad, with the goal of obtaining a new three-year WorldTour licence for 2017 until 2020.