Cycling - Cavendish to lead OPQS in Qatar

British sprint king Mark Cavendish will lead Omega Pharma-Quick Step at the Tour of Qatar with Tom Boonen ruled out of the race with a back problem.

The Manxman, who signed for the Belgium-based team from Team Sky ahead of the 2013 season, will be the focus for his team-mates at the six-day race, which runs from February 3 to 8.

Boonen underwent an operation at a hospital in Belgium to rectify a septic elbow, which flared after a mountain bike crash.

The procedure was a success and he has already returned to the saddle in a bid to make the Tour of Oman, but the Tour of Qatar will come too soon.

"This year Tom Boonen won't be at the start," sports director Wilfried Peeters said. "So we will focus our attention on other riders, and of course on Mark Cavendish.

"He knows the parcour and the conditions we will find in Qatar. We will work for him, to give him the best situation for the sprint. But we also have other riders who can do well in Qatar. We will try to win at least one stage, and put at least one rider in the high part of the GC.

"OPQS specialises in these kinds of races in the desert, with a lot of wind. Mark can benefit from the experience of the team on this kind of parcour."

Cavendish has already opened his new account with victory in the first stage of the Tour de San Luis in Argentina.

He will be joined in Qatar by Boonen's replacement Zdenek Stybar, Iljo Keisse, Niki Terpstra, Matteo Trentin, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Stijn Vandenbergh and Martin Velits.