The team, which has won eight of the past 10 editions of the Tour of Qatar, was the most notable absentee when the list of invitees was announced in December. Niki Terpstra’s overall win in 2015 was his second in as many years and Etixx-QuickStep’s fourth in succession.
“QuickStep is an important team who have won a lot in the Tour of Qatar but we noticed in the past couple of years that we had a problem with discipline with QuickStep,” Al-Thani told reporters at a press conference in Doha on Sunday.
Al-Thani cited a lack of respect for the requirements of live television coverage as the principal reason not to invite Etixx-QuickStep, complaining that the team’s stage-winning riders had delayed too long before reporting for podium ceremonies.
“For the podium, we asked them not to do interviews [immediately after the finish] because we have limited time for the podium, we are live on air. But they take too much time to change their shoes,” Al-Thani said. “At the Ladies Tour of Qatar, they don’t change their shoes, but QuickStep wanted to take a chair, they wanted to change their shoes, lie down and after that do an inteview. We told them for a couple of years not to do it but they still did it.
“Last year we sent a special lady to hurry them up and they talked to her not in a very nice way and they would wave her off like that. That is not good, you know.
“We told them they cannot do that and that’s for a couple of years: [last year] wasn’t the first time. And there were some problems in the hotel, discipline things.”
Asked to specify the issues at the race hotel, Al-Thani said: “I cannot, but this is what we heard. Sometimes you don’t get all this information. But you could feel the attitude was there that they were too much relaxed in the place.”
Speaking in December, Etixx-QuickStep directeur sportif Wilfried Peeters suggested to Sporza that the team was absent for sporting reasons, citing a desire to reduce travel by having the Classics unit race in Spain and Portugal in February. Shortly afterwards, however, Etixx-QuickStep was included in the list of invitees for the Tour of Oman, a race which traditionally has the same slate of teams as the Tour of Qatar.
Eddy Merckx is part of the organising committee for the Tour of Qatar, but he preferred not to offer his thoughts on Al-Thani’s criticism of Etixx-QuickStep when speaking to reporters after the press conference. “I cannot say more than that,” Merckx said. “He took the decision.”
Al-Thani later added that Etixx-QuickStep was the only high-profile absentee not invited to the race, admitting that other teams, such as Fabian Cancellara’s Trek-Segafredo, and Movistar, had been unable to fit the race into their calendar.
“We invited all the other teams, they had their schedules and reasons not to come. QuickStep is just one case and we hope things will be better next year. It’s not permanent. We respect the team and all the riders, they’ve won a lot,” he said. “But things must be corrected.”
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.