Etixx-QuickStep manager Patrick Lefevere has hit back after the Tour of Qatar organisers announced bad behaviour was behind their reason to exclude his team from this race, despite them winning 8 of last 10 editions of the race.
“They should better organise their race in Qatar,” he told Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, in a dig towards the way the Middle Eastern race is run.
“I do not know what's upset the sheikh," he added.
Lefevere’s team were surprisingly omitted from the list of invitees, which was announced in early December. In a pre-race press conference, organisers stated that this had been due to disciplinary reasons. President of the Qatar Cycling Federation Sheikh Khalid Bin Ali Al-Thani said that the team had showed a lack of respect for the race, by taking too long to get changed ahead of the post-stage podium, talking disrespectfully to a race staff member and bad behaviour in the hotel.
The Belgian WorldTour team had previously cited sporting reasons for their absence. Etixx-QuickStep are the most successful team in the history of the Tour of Qatar. Niki Terpstra has won the past two editions of the race, which is often seen as good preparation for the Classics due to the presence of crosswinds and echelons. Lefevere upheld the team’s reasoning that they didn’t wish to send some of their top men to this year's race.
“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,” Lefevere said, who also hit back at the Qatar organisers.
"They first need to get their own house in order in their organisation,” Lefevere added. “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 remained coy on whether the team would return to the race in 2017 even though the Qatar organisers and race ambassador Eddy Merckx is keen for them to return.
“We will see,” he said. “We will spend no more time on them than necessary.”
The 2016 Tour of Qatar begins on Monday 8 in Dukhan and finishes on Friday on the Doha Corniche. Cyclingnews will have full race reports and photo galleries, plus exclusive news and interview from Barry Ryan in Qatar.