Tinkov on Russia’s struggling economy: ‘Don’t believe the propaganda’

The Russian billionaire says Russia's struggling economy is not yet affecting his company or his cycling team

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DOHA, Qatar (VN) — Russian billionaire Oleg Tinkov brushed off concerns that the economic troubles at home could force him to abandon his Tinkoff-Saxo team with stars Alberto Contador and Peter Sagan.

“Why would I suffer? What you see in the news is propaganda, don’t forget,” Tinkov said.

“Russia suffers but not the way that the West would like to see it suffer. I know you’d like us to suffer more, the British and Americans like to push the Russians, it’s geo-political, it’s normal. You have been doing that for ages, but don’t worry, we won’t suffer like you want us to suffer. We are still OK.”

Tinkov bought the team from Bjarne Riis in December 2013 at an estimated $8.12 million. This winter, he signed Sagan at an estimated $3.4 million a year and brought onboard highly regarded staff members like Sean Yates and Bobby Julich. Next to Sky and BMC Racing, Tinkoff stands as one of cycling’s richest teams.

The news of Russia’s worsening economic situation could force a change in the neon-yellow team or worse yet, a complete stop. The West sanctioned Russia due to its actions in Ukraine over the last year, and the value of the ruble against the U.S. dollar has dropped more than 50 percent.

Today, one ruble will get you just over one U.S. cent, when last year it bought you just over three cents.

Tinkov, who has employees all over the world on high salaries running his credit bank, said in December the situation could force him to close the team.

In Doha, at the start of the Tour of Qatar this week, Tinkov brushed Russia’s problems aside as a bigger issue that will not affect the team running on a reported $12.5 million to $14.7 million a year.

“It’s not affecting the team, it’s small money we are talking about, it’s just a fraction of our net income. Don’t forget my bank is making over $100 million, $200 million in 2013. The sponsorship is not big on our balance sheet,” Tinkov said.

“Plus we have sponsors Saxo Bank and Specialized, so we have no issue with the budget. At least for the next 12 months, then we will see. If the price of oil drops to $20 [per barrel] then maybe there’d be no Tour of Qatar either! Ha ha!”

The oil price rebounded from the lower $40 range and leveled off in the $50 range in February. It was valued at $51.84 last Friday. Tinkoff Credit Systems’ shares have dropped over the last six months like the Joux-Plane descent into Gap. At the end of August, it reached a six-month high of $5.30. The price has now dipped to $2.70.

“This year, for sure, we won’t have a problem. It’s planned and done. For 2016, it’s hard for me to speculate,” Tinkov added.

“Maybe we’ll try to save some money, but it’s good to save money anyway. I like to save money, that’s the approach I have with my wife at home and with my team, so we are never fat. We moved out of our new offices only when we started to make a $200 million net income, before that we were sitting in a very small office. It’s good to have this penny pincher mentality.”

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