THE Tour of Qatar and Ladies Tour of Qatar, the blue-riband events on the Qatar Cycling Federation’s (QCF) calendar, were cancelled due to lack of sponsorship.
The Tour of Qatar, scheduled to be held from February 6 to 10, featured five stages and the women’s event, organised a week before the men’s race, had four.
The men’s championship, along with nine other events, was recently promoted to WorldTour for the 2017 season. The cancellation is a blow not only to the international federation’s (UCI) hopes of developing the sport in the Middle East, but also to the big plans of QCF, which hosted the UCI Road World Championships in October.
“I’ve no idea why the Tour of Qatar won’t continue,” cycling legend Eddy Merckx, who has organised the tournament along with Dirk De Pauw for the past 15 years, said.
Asked if the criticism (regarding weather) over last year’s Worlds in Doha could have played a role in the decision, he said, “The World Championships have nothing to do with the cancellation. It was nicely organised and one of the best in years. I don’t think criticism played any role.”
The sudden cancellation leaves a gap on the men’s race calendar between the Dubai Tour (January 31 to February 4) and Tour of Oman (February 14 to 17).
The Tour of Qatar began in 2002, with Thorsten Wilhelms winning the inaugural edition. Former champions include Tom Boonen, Mark Cavendish and Niki Terpstra.
Dutchwoman Kirsten Wild took home the title ahead of Giorgia Bronzini in the inaugural edition of Ladies Tour in 2009. She won three more titles while Trixi Worrack won it last year.
Meanwhile, several teams around the world expressed shock at the surprise decision.
“We had the first stage of the programmes of all 29 riders for the first months of the season on paper,” said Quick Step Floors team’s Wilfried Peeters. “We’ve to start all over again. The UCI could’ve announced it early in December.”