The hubris and planet-sized egos of lunatic sports owners is a core Deadspin beat, from Joe Lacob’s horniness for the Larry O’Brien trophy, to Stan Kroenke’s dead raccoon hair, to Dan Gilbert’s simpering evil. When the Panthers’ owner gets a dang statue of himself with two actual panthers built out front of his stadium, you should expect us to make fun of him. However, Tinkoff cycling owner Oleg Tinkov might be weirder and more megalomaniacal than most American sports owners. The Russian tycoon is apparently leaving his team after a tumultuous decade of talking mad shit, infuriating his own riders, and fielding one of the best teams in the sport, and the sport will be more boring for his departure.
Tinkov is the son of a coal miner who grew up in central Russia and began racing bikes as a college student in the ‘80s. His apocryphal-sounding creation myth only gets better—apparently while at a race in Uzbekistan he dumped all of his money into buying jeans, and then returned home to sell them at a premium. (The Lithuanian Dream Team mentioned doing this as well.) After forays into electronics, breweries, and credit cards, Tinkov became a self-made billionaire. Even as a nascent tycoon, he had a knack for upsetting people, and brashly forcing his way into the public eye. Consider the butt-centric ads he made for a short-lived food business, as well as the this infamous ad for Tinkoff beer (he amended the -ff to his name in an effort to lend authenticity to his false claims of connection to the Russian Empire).
He founded the Tinkoff Credit Systems team in 2007, then bought control of Team Tinkoff-Saxo Bank in 2013. Under his sole ownership, Tinkoff has won six Tour de France stages, two Grand Tours, and a World Championship. This does not necessarily make him an affable owner. After Peter Sagan had a poor Spring Classics campaign in 2015, he criticized him and publicly floated cutting his salary, before admitting that owning a cycling team was more like having a shiny toy rather than a legitimate advertising vehicle:
This is not business, this is just my toy. And like a child, when you play with your toy maybe it stops being interesting.
Of course, when his team wins, Tinkov flaunts his extreme happiness. When Alberto Contador won the Giro, he took center stage, rocking pink hair and flipping double birds.
He is also an outright Twitter troll, who operates like Mark Cuban... if Mark Cuban were racist and trying to fight everyone:
(This is not true.)
He said two months ago that he never regrets the tweets he fires off, and then proceeded to call anyone who paid attention to him a stupid idiot:
“I don’t think about [my Twitter posts]. Regrets? No, I don’t,” Tinkov told Cycling Weekly.
“You journalists, stupid journalists, like yourself probably, you pay attention to the Twitter. If you are intelligent, you shouldn’t pay attention. And I don’t Tweet that much recently, for a couple of months I haven’t tweeted about cycling at all. Now, I did two Tweets, and if that’s the only question you come and ask. I feel sorry for you. That’s very shallow.
Tinkov will reportedly disband the Tinkoff Team after this season because of his frustration with cycling’s inability to enact meaningful changes to its financial structure. Despite his imminent departure from the sport—for my money, I don’t think he’ll be gone long—dude is out here at the Tour de France yelling and celebrating.
For all of his grating egotism and the flak he gets for his terrible takes, Tinkov loves being a part of the spectacle of professional cycling. That makes him a good owner in a cash-strapped sport, even if it comes with being a nauseating clown half the time. Peter Sagan will probably miss the types of support riders Tinkov can afford to buy for him, but he won’t miss getting called a fat loser in the media after a fourth place finish. Tinkov’s exit is a good thing for a sport that is trying to expand its geographical base beyond Europe. His money will be missed, but you better believe he’ll still get these tweets up, perhaps even more so now that he’ll have some free time.