Last year's champion Tadej Pogacar will miss Sunday's Liege-Bastogne-Liege to be with his grieving fiancee after the death of her mother, opening the door for his rivals in the fourth Monument of the season.
The Slovenian won a thrilling race in 2021, pipping perennial nearly man Julian Alaphilippe by a tyre's width on the line.
But he has confirmed that he will not race this time around, in order to stay with his partner, fellow cyclist Urska Zigart.
"Sadly I won't be at the start of @LiegeBastogneL tomorrow," UAE Team Emirates rider Pogacar tweeted.
"It's been a tough few days but I'd like to thank everybody for their understanding. A special thank you to @TeamEmiratesUAE & especially to Mauro Gianetti and Team President Matar for their support in this situation."
The absence of the 23-year-old Pogacar, who has also won the last two Tour de France titles, leaves Alaphilippe as the favourite for the 275.5km, seven-hour, marathon race.
The Frenchman has twice narrowly missed out in the Belgian classic, raced over cobbled hills and along narrow, winding roads in the Ardennes forest.
"I've often come close but never won," Alaphilippe said Saturday. "This is the most beautiful of all races."
The world champion appeared set for victory last year before Pogacar swooped from deep to snatch the win.
In the previous edition, Alaphilippe crossed the line with his arms in the air, allowing Primoz Roglic to overtake him, an excruciating moment for the swashbuckling Quick-Step leader.
Things got worse as he was relegated to fifth for a late swerve that took out Pogacar.
Those memories will sting.
Belgian champion Wout van Aert contracted Covid earlier this month but managed to take part in the equally challenging Paris-Roubaix just a week ago.
"I have a small chance of winning, but a big one of being in the mix a least," said Van Aert.
- Frantic finales -
British team Ineos have won three classics this spring, including last week's Paris-Roubaix, even though Tom Pidcock has failed to produce his top form. Former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland, winner of the Amstel Gold Race two weeks ago, could be their first option on Sunday.
Bahrain Victorious' Matej Mohoric could also be a threat. He claimed the Milan-San Remo honours with a blistering downhill rampage in March.
Bahrain Victorious also have former winner Wout Poels in their ranks. Rain is forecast and the diminutive Dutchman is a rider who thrives in the cold. He won in snow in 2016.
Organisers ditched the old uphill finish four years ago, setting up a series of frantic finales contested by cycling's big guns in the most recent editions of the race that started in 1892.
There are 10 short but steep cobbled climbs, which are ripe for attacks, before the peloton sweeps downhill through industrial estates, past Standard Liege's Stade Maurice Dufrasne and across the barge-laden Meuse river towards the new flat final run-in.
The main difficulty, other than the colossal endurance it requires, is keeping track of rivals on the forest roads where communication is difficult and riders can accelerate out of sight in the thick spring foliage of the winding roads.