ASO clarifies Omega Pharma's non-selection to Tours of Qatar and Oman
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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

ASO clarifies Omega Pharma's non-selection to Tours of Qatar and Oman

by Jered Gruber at 8:30 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Jean Francois Pescheux: "The Lotto team seemed weak."

On Saturday, it was reported that the ProTeam, Omega Pharma-Lotto, was not selected for either the Tour of Qatar (February 6-11) or the Tour of Oman (February 15-20). At the time, Omega Pharma manager, Marc Sergeant, was nervous about the possible repercussions of a non-invite, but was still holding out hope that the organizers for the two races, ASO, would change their minds.

"If we do not get to race in Qatar or Oman, that would be a big problem. We have provided programs already, and now it's probably too late to find an alternative. We still have a little hope, as the selection is not quite final," said the Belgian to La Derniere Heure.

Four days on, and the decision is now final - Omega Pharma will not be racing in the Middle East early next year, and the decision was apparently based on the team's proposed squad for Qatar and Oman.

Jean-Francois Pescheux, the race director of the Tour of Qatar, explained the thought process behind the non-selection of the powerful Belgian team.

"We asked the teams to communicate which rider they planned to bring. On this basis, we made our choice. The Lotto team seemed weak…"

The first roster the team sent included none of the team's marquee riders. Philippe Gilbert would not return as he had done the year before, instead preferring to start his season with the Tour of Mallorca and the Tour of Algarve. Jurgen van den Broeck is slated to race the Ruta del Sol, and Andre Greipel is headed to Australia. In other words, the team's three stars would not be present.

With the possibility of losing out on two great weeks of racing in the sun, Omega Pharma promised a change in the roster and presented Philippe Gilbert as a possible band-aid. The Classics superstar was just not enough for Pescheux though.

"Then they told us that Gilbert would come, but it was too late."

Part of the problem for Omega Pharma is the breakdown of first division and second division teams at the two races. The UCI wants to require equal representation from ProTeams and Pro Continental squads, but for Qatar and Oman, the agreement was made that it would be 10 ProTeams and 6 Pro Continental.

The only way for Omega Pharma to get admission would be if extra teams were added: one ProTeam and accordingly, one Pro Continental team, according to Pescheux.

"One would have to increase the teams to eighteen, adding a team from the first division and one from division two. It is not under our agreement with Qatar and Oman though. Now, we provide the teams with airfare, accommodation, and vehicles. In Europe, we could do that, but in this case, it's prohibitively expensive."

Omega Pharma had also hoped, according to La Derniere Heure, that they could take the place of the embattled Pegasus team if they folded. Pescheux shoots down that possibility as well.

"The UCI has said no. If Pegasus cannot race, it will be replaced by another second division team."

For 2011, Omega Pharma-Lotto will have to find another early season testing ground for a part of its squad. It's an interesting new wrinkle in the selection procedure for races, particularly the smaller, critical early season races. If Qatar and Oman are important for a team like Omega Pharma, look for a high quality roster in 2012.


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