The Optum p/b Kelly Benefit squad were down to just four riders after the opening stage of the race.

The American Optum p/b Kelly Benefit team endured a nightmare start to this year’s Ladies Tour of Qatar, losing two of its six riders after Tuesday’s opening stage.

Canadian Annie Ewart couldn’t start the race as she was suffering with a fever, and then American Maura Kinsella departed stage one in an ambulance after a crash caused by riders hitting sizeable cat’s eyes in the road.

“I made a joke with the ladies that having four left means there’s fewer of us to get in the moves,” said DS Patrick McCarty, a former professional for US Postal, Phonak and Slipstream.

“Annie was a little under the weather a few days before we flew from America, but with a race this far away, it’s tough to make last minute changes in personnel.

“She was getting better, even on her first day over her she said she was improving. But it’s a long flight over here – we met in Dallas, and it’s a 15-hour journey, and I think that sent her over the edge.”

Kinsella broke two ribs in the crash which forced her to abandon, and spent last night in the Cuban Hospital in Dukhan.

“Maura was really unlucky; she ended last season with a crash and broke her wrist,” added McCarty.

“But the hospital care here was amazing, it was testament to how the organisation has been here so far. It’s a perfect example of how events should be.”

Nonetheless, the team’s riders were in good spirits ahead of stage two; so much so that American pro Alison Tetrick was snapping pictures in and around the start at the UNESCO-certified Al Zubarah Fort as a “way of detailing her vacation!”

Brianna Walle, an American sprinter who has set up a crowdfunding page on her website for 2015 to generate income, was Optum’s highest-finisher on Wednesday’s crosswind-affected stage, placing 21st.