DOHA, Qatar (VN) — Organizers of the Tour of Qatar on Sunday announced that team Etixx—Quick-Step would not be invited to the 2016 race, which begins on Monday. Sheikh Khalid Bin Ali Al Thani, president of Qatar’s cycling federation, said the Belgian team was not invited due to various disciplinary problems, including disrespecting a female race employee.
“It’s true. We did not send them an invitation,” Al-Thani said. “Yes of course [they wanted to come], we have proof of it.”
VeloNews has contacted Etixx—Quick-Step for comment, however the team has not yet responded.
Etixx-Quick-Step is the most successful team in the race’s 15-year history, having won the overall on eight occasions. Nikki Terpstra is the two-time defending champion, and Tom Boonen has won 22 stages and the overall four times, the most in race history.
The team’s stars regularly use the race as a tune-up event before the Spring Classics campaign. But questions about the Etixx—Quick-Step’s participation in this year’s race arose in December when the team was not included on the preliminary participation list.
Al-Thani said Etixx-Quick-Step’s problems have gone on for years. The most common problems, he said, involved the delay of the podium presentation.
“They’d take too much time changing their shoes, sitting around, and then meeting the press while keeping us waiting,” Al-Thani said. “They can’t do that. Then there were some problems with hotels, discipline… things.”
But Al-Thani said the team’s most egregious actions came in 2015, when the race assigned a female employee to escort the winner to the podium each day. That year, Terpstra won the time trial as well as the general classification, and Etixx-Quick-Step won the team general classification.
“We sent them a special lady to hurry them up, and they talked to her not in a very nice way and waved her off like that,” Al Thani said. “That was not good.”
Etixx is one of several top teams not attending this year’s race, along with Trek-Segafredo, Sky, and Tinkoff. Al-Thani blamed scheduling issues for the weaker field this year.
“Some teams had to race near home for their sponsors,” Al-Thani said. “Quick-Step was that one case and we hope things will be better in the future. We respect the team, they win a lot, but things must be corrected.”
Al-Thani said the absence of the top teams forced organizers to rethink joining the WorldTour, which requires all 18 WorldTour teams to participate. Al-Thani believes his race will be part of the WorldTour in 2017, and said organizers have applied with the UCI to upgrade to that level.
“We are the oldest tour in the region so if the WorldTour is coming to the area it should come here first,” he said. “We have good confidence in that.”
Launched in 2002, the race was the first major cycling event in the Middle East, and paved the way for other events, such as the Tour of Oman, the Dubai Tour, and the Abu Dhabi Tour.