Etixx-Quick Step’s manager Patrick Lefevere slammed Tour of Qatar organisers for their decision to exclude the Belgian team from this year’s event, despite them having won all of the last four – and eight of the last ten – editions of the race.
Sheikh Khalid Bin Ali Al Thani, president of the Qatar Cycling Federation, said that Etixx-QuickStep were not invited to the race because of problems with discipline, including taking too long to attend post-race podium ceremonies.
“They should better organise their race in Qatar,” Lefevere told Het Nieuwsblad. “I do not know what’s upset the Sheikh.”
“We wanted Kittel but that was tough after his difficult year, and we weren’t going to send Boonen immediately to the bustle of Qatar after his skull fracture.”
He added: “They first need to get their own house in order in their organisation. Do you find it normal that the riders have to change on the side of the road after the race?
“For years, we’ve asked for a tent to have a little shelter. But again, the riders always have to expose themselves to the crowds. That’s the problem. Just as I don’t find it strange that a rider wants to freshen up before he goes to the podium. And yes, there was a party last year. But is that so bad?”
Lefevere left the possibility of a return to the race in 2017 open, with Belgian cycling legend Eddy Merckx serving as an ambassador and reportedly keen on the team’s return, but refused to commit to the idea, with his focus now firmly on the rest of the 2016 season.
“We will see,” Lefevere said. “We will spend no more time on them than necessary.”