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The Belgian Etixx-QuickStep team is not racing at this year’s Tour of Qatar due to a perceived “lack of respect” at previous editions, Qatar Cycling Federation president Sheikh Khalid Bin Ali Al-Thani said at a press conference in Doha on Sunday.
As reported by several news agencies, event organizers felt Etixx had caused problems on and off the race course, taking too long to appear on the podium for live TV presentations, as well as causing undisclosed issues at the race hotel.
“For several years we noticed that there are problems with discipline and politeness in Team QuickStep,” Bin Ali Al Thani said, according to Sporza. “We have made clear to them a few times that hey had to change their behavior, but that has not happened.
“For example, they lingered too long to put on other clothes and shoes, which was inconvenient for the live broadcast,” he said. ‘They take too long to change, and give interviews, even though they are expected on live television. Last year we appointed a lady to remind them after the race, to hurry, but she was not treated politely.”
Asked to specify what sort of behavioral issues the team had caused at the race hotel, Al Thani did not clarify.
“I cannot, but this is what we heard,” he said, according to Cyclingnews. “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.”
The Tour of Qatar has been a widely successful event for the Etixx team, which has used the event as part of its spring classics preparation, with Tom Boonen winning four times (2006, 2008, 2009, 2012) and Niki Terpstra winning the past two editions. In all, the team has won eight of the past 10 editions.
With these victories came repeated post-race issues with the organization, Al Thani said.
“We treat the teams with great respect, they must also treat us with respect,” he said. “Here, they felt just a little too much at home. We hope that the team has understood the message and will address this in the future. They will then be invited back.”
The Ettix team, which won two stages at the Tour of Valencia with Dan Martin and Stijn Vandenbergh, did not immediately comment on the Qatar exclusion.
According to Cyclingnews, Al Thani added that Etixx-QuickStep was the only major team that was specifically excluded from the race, adding that other teams, such as Trek-Segafredo and Movistar, had not fit the race into their respective calendars.
“We invited all the other teams, they had their schedules and reasons not to come,” he said. “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. But things must be corrected.”
If the Tour of Qatar is awarded WorldTour status in 2017, as many have speculated, all WorldTour teams would be in attendance, including the Belgian squad.
In all, 18 teams will line up for the 2016 race, including eight WorldTour teams. Belgian Pro Continental teams Wanty-Groupe Gobert and Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise are competing.
The UCI 2.HC Tour of Qatar begins February 8, in Dukhan, and wraps up February 12, in Doha Corniche.
Etixx-QuickStep is sending a squad to the UCI 2.HC Tour of Oman, which begins on February 17; traditionally teams field squads for both events, to maximize the long trip from Western Europe.
Missing the Tour of Qatar could be considered a blow for Etixx riders planning on participating at the world road championships, in September, as the race is being held in Doha, making Qatar the first Middle Eastern country to stage a world championship.