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Notes From the Eastern Desk

Tinkoff, Martinelli moving on...

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Two of cycling's more influential people will be departing the sport (for now), according to reports over the weekend. Let's take a peek in on both, and the very different stories they tell.

Tinkoff to Buzzoff

Oleg Tinkoff, owner of the Tinkoff-Saxo squad, has decided to invest his millions elsewhere as opposed to the sport of cycling, where he has been sponsoring, owning and somewhat running teams since 2006. Tinkoff, an enthusiastic cyclist and owner of a successful banking business in Russia, got started in the sport with the Tinkoff Credit Systems team that arrived at the 2007 Giro d'Italia as a Russian-heavy squad. But the pro-conti outfit lasted only a couple years before disbanding and allowing its license to go to the newly-created Katusha squad, and Tinkoff was out of the sport until he was able to buy in to the Saxo Bank team in 2012. Since then Tinkoff has been a very opinionated and provocative figure, challenging the structure of races, the cycling calendar, and the way pro cycling funds itself, albeit with little immediate effect on the sport. I could try to summarize, but if you want to know what I'm referring to, just go to this CN story where he lays it all out.

Tinkoff's primary beef is with the economic model of cycling, where sponsors come and go, as do licenses, rather rapidly, and extends to ASO and the Tour de France, which you may recall likes to exert full control over the Tour de France rather than take suggestions from people like Tinkoff. I guess how sad you are about Tinkoff's departure depends on whether you believe his ideas have any merit -- because they are much less likely to go anywhere without him. [I guess it also depends on whether you felt insulted by Tinkoff's twitter feed at some point, which is likely.] Or maybe, because of Tinkoff's obnoxious style, his ideas will take off the second he leaves the scene. More likely the former.

Bjarne Riis was rumored to have been interested in repurchasing his old team from Tinkoff, and maybe that will happen, but the Russian indicated it's for sale to the highest bidder. And then he used a bunch of expletives to describe the UCI. Hey, maybe we need him around after all!

Martinelli Out of Astana

Astana manager Giuseppe Martinelli will not return to the Astana team, leaving the sports direction in the hands of Dimitri Fofonov, as part of the team's more Kazakh-focused direction. Martinelli had been rumored to be on the outs as far back as 2014, only to stay on, but it seems like this was a marriage that was never destined to last.

A former Olympic silver medalist on the road in Montreal, Martinelli has been around cycling management since his 1985 retirement as a rider, including managing the Mercatone Uno teams of Marco Pantani as well as turns at Saeco and Lampre. The Italian is apparently responsible for Team Astana being as Italian as it is -- not that I know, but in this article from 2014 he speaks of wanting to start a new Italian team, and the more recent story of his departure from Astana points heavily toward the team not wanting to be particularly Italian or anything besides Kazakh. Which makes sense: if there were a team named "Paris" it'd probably have lots of French riders.

Anyway, as Astana consolidate their national identity, it'll be interesting to see where this goes. Vincenzo Nibali is a free agent at the end of 2016, and Fabio Aru is up for a new contract after 2017. Nibali is returning to race the Giro. Nothing suggests he's angling for dual Kazakh citizenship. Aru has inherited the Tour leadership from Nibali, so if Astana can't develop a more localized grand tour threat, perhaps the Sardinian will retain the captaincy in an extended contract, but he'll have options too, most likely. Mikel Landa has already departed Astana.

As for Martinelli, the chances of him being a part of a new Italian team in 2017 are non-zero. Lampre remain the only World Tour team from Italy, which is a disgrace considering there are three American teams and three more between Russia and Kazakhstan. Of course, teams are mostly quite international and just barely tied to their registration origins, but the lack of a more powerful Italian presence for a sport where Italy is such a factor is jarring. But as nice as it sounds to speculate that Martinelli will find a team and Nibali will sign with them, the money for such an occurrence doesn't grow on trees. Martinelli may realize his dream, but a more realistic version of it is one that takes a bit more time.