Qatar Cycling Federation president Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al Thani in a pre-race press conference in Doha, Qatar today was frank when asked why the Belgian outfit, synonymous with the race, was omitted.
Ettix-Quick-Step have won the last four editions with 2015 victor Niki Terpstra, Mark Cavendish and Tom Boonen, and eight in total since the event’s inception in 2002.
“Quick-Step is one of the important teams that has won a lot in the Tour of Qatar and their name became associated with the Tour of Qatar. We appreciate that,” he said.
“But we have noticed, not only last year but even before that, that we had a problem with discipline with Quick-Step. They delay a lot for the ceremonies, they take interviews with the TV while we are waiting and have limited time on the satellite production, and when we send people to hurry them up they talk to them not in a very nice way.
“We have warned them before if this continues we will not invite them. And last year they did the same thing…
“…as we respect all the teams, we expect all the teams to also respect the organisation and the race itself. This is the only reason we have not sent them an invitation.”
The president did stipulate the outfit would be welcome back in future.
The tour starts tomorrow with a 176.5km run across country from Dukhan to Al Khor Corniche.
The race this season will showcase five stages, instead of six, as organisers try to accommodate a bolstered cycling calendar that provides teams now with three tour options in the Middle East, the preceding Dubai Tour, Qatar and the proceeding Tour of Oman, as well as events in Australia and Spain, which run concurrently.
Two-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome (Sky) chose to kick off his 2016 campaign in Australia at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, which he won today, while Marcel Kittel, who competed in Qatar last season, demonstrated a return to form with new team Etixx-Quick-Step at the Dubai Tour.
“…We have so many races at the same time we thought we could give more space for the teams that participate in Dubai to be able to travel easily to Doha,” the president said. “We also feel so many races are coming up in the world now, it’s moving and the calendar is full so we wanted to reduce the pressure on the riders. That’s the only reason to do it, just technical.”
Classics specialist Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Cavendish and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) as well as Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) are among those from 18 teams set to start.
Race organisers have said they will push to have the event, a new contract for which needs to be agreed after this season, elevated to WorldTour status for 2017.