Tom Boonen withdraws from Tour of Qatar after arm surgery
Tom Boonen has been withdrawn from the Tour of Qatar as he continues to recover from surgery.
Last Updated: 24/01/13 2:10pm
The 32-year-old Omega Pharma - Quick-Step rider required an operation after septic bacteria entered a cut on his left elbow that he sustained during a training crash on his mountain bike.
The news is a major blow to both race organisers Amaury Sports Organisation and Boonen, who was hoping to win a fifth overall title in Qatar and also add to his tally of 19 stage wins.
The Belgian national champion said: "Unfortunately, I won't be in Tour of Qatar, one of my favourite races, as I decided with the team that it is too early.
"I feel sorry for Eddy Merckx and the race organisation there. Everybody knows how much I like this race, but I really can't make it."
The surgery has disrupted Boonen's preparations for the spring Classics, where he is looking to repeat the success of 2012 that saw him win the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Gent-Wevelgem and E3 Harelbeke.
However, he is hopeful that he can get his training back on track as soon as possible.
He added: "First, I need to recover 100 per cent physically and then start training again to see how things go.
"I will look into the best schedule to prepare for the Classics at the end of next week and then I will decide with the team which will be the best approach."
Boonen spent a few days in hospital after the surgery but is now free from both infection and pain.
He was due to be released on Thursday, pending a final check-up.
"I'm happy the situation now is improving, even if I am still weak," Boonen said. "To have news released I can go home is good because it was a difficult moment for me and my family."