The 2016 Tour of Qatar will begin on February 8 without Etixx-Quickstep, the team which has won the past four editions. The Belgian WorldTour squad was not among the 18 teams announced by the ASO, so there will be no third overall victory in a row for Dutchman Niki Terpstra. Tom Boonen remains the most successful rider in the race, with 22 stage wins, four overall victories and seven points jerseys.
Etixx-Quickstep confirmed the team would not take part, saying they'd "changed their race programmes a little bit for 2016".
The WorldTour will instead be represented by AG2R La Mondiale, Giant-Alpecin, Lampre-Merida, LottoNl-Jumbo, Katusha, Dimension Data and BMC Racing. The presence of only seven WorldTour teams is a significant decrease from previous years. The 2015 edition of the race had 13 WorldTour teams taking part.
Absent too are Tinkoff-Saxo, meaning the race will go off without World Champion Peter Sagan. Sagan will start his season at the Tour de San Luis. Tinkoff-Saxo manager Stefano Feltrin said they chose not to race Qatar, "based on technical reasons".
Etixx-Quickstep team director Wilfried Peeters told Sporza that the team decided to race the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, which returns to the calendar as a UCI 2.1 stage race on February 3-7.
"Part of the Classics team will race in Spain, and some will be at the Volta ao Algarve [in Portugal]. This way the travel before the opening weekend in Flanders is somewhat more limited," Peeters said.
After Valenciana, there are two one-day races, the Vuelta Murcia and Clasica Almeria on February 13 and 14, followed by the Ruta del Sol and Algarve, both of which take place from February 17-21, overlapping with the Tour of Oman.
Drapac, Topsport Vlaanderen, Wanty-Groupe Gobert, Cult Energy, Fortuneo Vital Concept, Bora-Argon 18, Roompot, CCC Sprandi Polkowice and UnitedHealthcare were invited from the Pro Continental ranks, while the Continental team Skydive Dubai brings a regional presence to the peloton.
The Ladies Tour of Qatar will include 15 teams, including the Boels Dolmans squad of defending champion and World Champion Lizzie Armitstead and four-time Ladies Tour of Qatar winner Kirsten Wild's Hitec Products team.
Tour of Qatar teams:
AG2R La Mondiale
Astana Pro Team
Team Dimension Data
BMC Racing Team
Drapac Professional Cycling
Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise
Wanty - Groupe Gobert
Cult Energy Pro Cycling
Fortuneo Vital Concept
CCC Sprandi Polkowice
United Healthcare Pro Cycling
Skydive Dubai Pro Cycling Team
Ladies Tour of Qatar teams:
Australia - AIS Cycling
Cylance Pro Cycling Team
Equipe de France
Italian Cycling Federation
Lares-Waowdeals UCI Women Team
Rabo Liv Womens Cycling Team
Team Liv Plantur
Unitedhealthcare Pro Cycling Team
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