The Omega Pharma-Quick Step Cycling Team has named the riders who will head to Qatar later this week for the Tour of Qatar, with Mark Cavendish set to lead the Belgian squad in the absence of Tom Boonen. The six-day race kicks on February 3 with a 145km road stage and ends on February 7.
Boonen is still recovering from a minor operation to resolve a septic infection in his elbow. He has used his fast sprint and skills in riding in the desert winds to win 20 stage in Qatar and the overall classification four times. However the Belgian team will now focus on protecting Mark Cavendish and setting him up for the expected sprint finishes.
Zdenek Stybar will replace Boonen as he continues his transition from cyclo-cross. Also in the team are Iljo Keisse, Niki Terpstra, Matteo Trentin, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Stijn Vandenbergh and Martin Velits.
"This year Tom Boonen won't be at the start," Sports Director Wilfried Peeters confirmed. "So we will focus our attention on other riders, and of course on Mark Cavendish."
"He knows the parcour and the conditions we will find in Qatar. We will work for him, to give him the best situation for the sprint. But we also have other riders who can do well in Qatar. We will try to win at least one stage, and put at least one rider in the high part of the GC."
"OPQS specializes in these kinds of races in the desert, with a lot of wind. Mark can benefit from the experience of the team on this kind of parcour."
Other sprinters and classics rider in action in Qatar include Baden Cooke (Orica-GreenEdge), Daniele Bennati (Team Saxo-Tinkoff), Russell Downing (NetApp-NetApp) Elia Viviani (Team Cannondale), Andrea Guardini (Astana Pro Team), Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard), John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano), Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling), Edvald Boasson Hagen and Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing Team).