Blazin' Saddles

Oleg Tinkov and possibly the most entertaining Twitter account in sport

Blazin' Saddles

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In his first post-Tour de France blog, Blazin' Saddles looks at the drunken antics of Tinkoff-Saxo owner Oleg Tinkov and his ongoing quest to conduct all his team's private business on the most public platform of all: Twitter.

We've all done it before: had a few beers too many and then taken to social media to discuss anything from conspiracy theories to our fantasy cycling squads.

And you know it's been a particularly hefty night when, the next day, you scroll through your timeline and see evidence of flirting with the likes of Ivan Basso, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Mikhail Ignatiev.

Well, this - and much more unchained small cog and big ring foreplay - flowed from the fingers of the colourful Russian billionaire owner of Tinkoff-Saxo on Friday night when Tinkov, who readily admitted to being "doped by Burgundy and Crystal" vodka, aired enough dirty laundry to make even Arnaud Demare's soigneur shake his head in disbelief.

First up, Tinkov tested the waters with a little bit of transfer talk, playing on the widely held perception that non-winning Tour de France green jersey Peter Sagan will be making the switch from Cannondale to Tinkoff-Saxo in the close season.

Of course, it didn't take long - but once Tinkov had obtained the requisite retweets he seemed to back down, suggesting his team would settle for the less eye-catching (and expensive) signature of Sky's fading Norwegian light, Edvald Boasson Hagen. Or, perhaps, both riders - before cracking open a "Magnum of VODKA with beluga caviar".

Understandably, Tinkov was at the receiving end of numerous jibes and digs - primarily about his intoxicated state and provocative gung-ho nature.

Whether proving everyone wrong meant proving that he was desperate, or a clown, or both - or neither - was soon revealed when Tinkov claimed to be sharing some exclusive news with his amused followers.

The addition of Katusha's forgotten man Ignatiev - famed for his gutsy solo attacks - could be explained, according to Tinkov, by the fact that his countryman shares the same agent as Wiggins, Britain's 2012 Tour winner and now clearly out of favour at Team Sky.

After stressing it was in Wiggins' contract to shave off his famous beard, Tinkov couldn't resist having a pop at the current plight of Team Sky by claiming Chris Froome and his "wife" Michele Cound had been in touch to scupper any move for Wiggins in order to "stall his career".

Tinkov said that he was no longer sure of Ignatiev either because he recalled dropping his compatriot on a recent training ride in Tuscany. "I think I need a B plan," he added in another barbed aside towards Sir Dave Brailsford's Plan A-heavy outfit.

Looking ahead at a big duel between his rider, Alberto Contador, and Froome next July, Tinkov couldn't resist musing over the possible repercussions once the Spaniard emerged victorious.

Continuing to bait Sky, Tinkov also had a pop at one of his own riders, and Sky target, Nicolas Roche. Out of contract at the end of the season, the 30-year-old Irishman has been tipped to move to Sky after negotiations at prolonging his contract at Tinkoff-Saxo apparently fell through.

Quite how Roche would have felt to wake up on Sunday morning and to find out that his boss had been discussing his salary with the world and his dog is anyone's guess. Perhaps in the same way that he reacted when John Gadret refused to give him a spare wheel...?

Sensing, maybe, that he had stepped out of line - or, rather, having received a call from Tinkoff-Saxo's public relations department - Tinkov went quiet before coming up with the kind of tried-and-tested chestnut favoured by Instagram-hungry Russian soldiers patrolling across the border in Ukraine.

But on Saturday, Tinkov was back on the sauce - or in the game, at least - as he wrote of his desire to sign Movistar's Alejandro Valverde, Trek's Robert Kiserlovski and even the much-maligned Schleck brothers. Tinkov even claimed he'd sign Froome for 5,000 retweets or Lance Armstrong for 10,000.

(If cycling were football, Tinkov would clearly have been banged up for tapping up players; that said, if football were cycling, then Arsenal's Yaya Sanogo - who went from 'Sa-no-goal' to goal machine overnight after firing a quadruple against Benfica in pre-season - would be flagged up for doping and have his biological passport scoured by the UCI white coats.)

Talking of the UCI and the biological passport... Tinkov also had some choice words for the way cycling's governing body had treated his team over the Roman Kreuziger case.

The Czech rider, winner of last year's Amstel Gold Race, was pulled from Tinkoff-Saxo's Tour de France squad at the 11th hour after it emerged that the UCI were opening up an investigation into anomalies in his blood passport dating back to his time at Astana. Tinkoff-Saxo removed their rider from the Tour as a precaution, but included their man in their Tour de Pologne squad after the UCI apparently dragged their heels on the case.

This sparked a reaction from Brian Cookson and the UCI, who ordered Tinkoff-Saxo to pull the rider from the start-list. In what seemed like a rather muddled interview, Cookson, the UCI President, claimed that he didn't know the detailed history of Kreuziger's case because it predated his tenure at the top, stressing that "one of the things that I have done is separate myself from the detail of the anti-doping process". He then underlined that Kreuziger's passport contained "very serious anomalies", whereby seemingly undermining his previous statement.

Unsurprisingly, Tinkoff-Saxo have leapt on these comments. In a carefully worded open letter on its website, the team's managing director Stefano Feltrin questioned Cookson's claim of total impartiality by his parallel assertion that biological passport anomalies were not being treated as if they were an A sample positive test.

Tinkov himself took to Twitter - of course - to suggest that his team could sue the UCI for non-disclosure, claiming they knew about Kreuziger's passport foibles prior to his move to Saxo Bank in 2012. Replying to various people on Twitter, Tinkov once again stressed that none of his current riders had been found guilty of doping while he was in charge of the team.

Indeed, both Contador and Kreuziger's doping cases date from when the riders wore the baby blue of Astana - with Saxo, in both cases, signing the riders on big contracts only to be lumbered (in the Spaniard's case) with a crippling two-year ban.

Comedically, the man in charge of Astana while both Contador and Kreuziger were on the Kazakh payroll put in a rare appearance on Twitter by coming out in support of Tinkov - although he could well have simply been goading the UCI.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Cyclingnews, Cookson kept his cool amid threats of lawsuits and accusations of favouritism (his detractors dragging up his ostensible link with Team Sky through his son, Oli, and the fact that the British team's Colombian rider Sergio Henao was cleared of any wrongdoing following investigations into his own biological passport irregularities).

"Let me just say that my friend Oleg's tweets are always entertaining," Cookson said. "Sometimes they are amusing but they're not always factually based. If my friend Oleg decides to take the UCI to court we'll deal with that through our lawyers."

As Cookson was speaking, Tinkov was back to his usual playful antics of chasing Sagan's signature and entertaining the masses. Just before announcing that Polish double Tour stage winner Rafal Majka had signed on for three more years at Tinkoff-Saxo, the billionaire retweeted a picture that no doubt put a smile on his face.

In the few hours after writing about his plan to sign Sagan, Boasson Hagen and Froome to ride in a Galacticos-style team alongside Contador in 2016, Tinkov must have read the Cookson interview for his next online appearance was less playful and more aggravated.

Luckily, Oleg had calmed down by the afternoon, tweeting a photo of himself topless on a boat besides a lake, with the caption: "Working on the plan against UCI domination, and signing Peter Sagan. Oliver Cookson still at Sky? Good :-)"

Although it seems signing Sagan won't all be plain sailing...

Felix Lowe - Twitter: @Saddleblaze

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