After one of the most drawn out, leaky sieve, type PR strategies, it's official, Oleg Tinkov and Bjarne Riis are no longer as one. On Sunday evening somewhere in Europe, Riis's suspension turned rancid and the Dane was shown the door of the team he'd launched and managed for more than a decade. None of it was all that surprising, the issues surrounding the relationship of Tinkov and Riis are nothing new, trading barbs almost from the outset of their high-powered partnership.
What ultimately broke them apart, it's hard to say, but if I was to make an educated guess, I'd put it down to a disagreement over the kind of premier cru reds the team was stocking in its purpose built kitchen truck. Or not. Personally I'm not particularly interested. It's at least in Tinkov's view irreparable, and the two have now gone their separate ways.
In sport, a change in tenure at a top club or team, a reshuffle in its management is par for the course, but in cycling it's positively rare. Amid the disappearance of sponsors and contractless riders, and the cavalcade of new ones entering, the one constant are the DSs. Vincent Lavenu has been intimately involved with Ag2r in all its forms for decades, like Riis had with the various incarnations of Tinkoff-Saxo, Johan Bruyneel led Postal and Discovery, then more or less the same team at Radioshack, Vaughters is Slipstream, and the list goes on.
Perhaps part of that is a reflection of the instability of cycling's financial model, managers in most cases are the glue that keeps teams together, and even as sponsors fall away, the team in one form or another carries on with the manager at its head. This understandably, doesn't exactly breed evolution within teams, nor bring about major reform. Consider the way Team Sky was able to blow its competition out of the water by bringing forth the kind of basic sport science that had been used in other endurance sports for years. Or that long debunked training methods still persist in the modern peloton. Performance has always taken a backseat to survival.
To me, what was most interesting about the Tinkov-Riis blow-up was that the whole saga was opened by a question of under-performance. A rarity in conversations usually dominated by hype. Tinkov, speaking to L'Equipe last week, said "a big talent must remain under pressure, whether it comes from God or they apply it themselves. And when you've got a contract that amounts to several millions that's even more the case."
Tinkov was speaking broadly about the team and his riders, but he wasn't impressed with the way Riis was dealing with the perceived rut Tinkoff-Saxo was in. Motivation, direction, and planning; did Tinkov sense there was a absence of those qualities at Tinkoff-Saxo under Riis. That a man who's made his mark on the sport was lacking the fervour to lead his team to greater success? Perhaps. Or maybe he was drunk. Who knows.
I'm reluctant to endorse a move away from the current stability of team management to a more 'revolving door' approach closer akin to other sports. But I do see there to be something constructive to be gained from more frequent renewal among team management. Fresh eyes, and a different approach can do wonders when the core of the team is brimming with potential. Whether that's what Tinkoff-Saxo needed remains to be seen.