Tour de France leader Jonas Vingegaard took a body blow as his co-captain Primoz Roglic pulled out of the 21-day bike race ahead of Sunday's stage 15 run to Carcassonne.
Vingegaard is locked in a desperate struggle with defending champion Tadej Pogacar after wrestling the lead from him in spectacular manner in the Alps.
Roglic was injured in a fall on the cobbles of the northern French mining roads on stage five, but was fundamental in causing Pogacar's meltdown on the Col du Granon on the second of three Alpine stages this week.
Vingegaard and Roglic started the Tour as co-captains of Jumbo-Visma, but the older of the two now trails by over 30 minutes.
On Saturday's stage Roglic actually joked that he was now preparing for the Vuelta a Espana, of which he is three-time defending champion.
But Sunday's announcement not only comes as a surprise, it also weakens Vingegaard, who leads Pogacar by 2min 22sec thanks to the collective efforts of his team.
Roglic said he was leaving to "allow my injuries to heal properly."
"We have decided that I won't start today," Roglic said on the Jumbo-Visma team Twitter account.
"I'm proud of my contribution to the current standings and I trust that the team will realise our yellow and green ambitions."
The move will also give him ten days extra to prepare for the Vuelta.
Former ski-jumper Roglic, 32, has been suffering from shoulder and lower back problems.
- 'Work together' -
Roglic and Vingegaard both came second to arch-rival Pogacar in 2020 and 2021 respectively, but said ahead of this Tour the UAE Team Emirates' 23-year-old Slovenian can be beaten by their united front.
"As long as we work together, doing as good as possible together, we believe that we can beat him," Roglic said two days before the 109th edition started with three stages in Denmark.
Vingegaard, 25, a modest former fish-factory worker, said he and Roglic enjoyed going for a beer together and the pair had been working well together.
The Slovenian had gradually built up a 39sec lead on Vingegaard over the first week, even when he lost two teammates to Covid-19 he seemed untouchable.
Until that is Roglic launched a series of savage attacks on Pogacar on the Col du Granon, and against all hope, the double-defending champion went into meltdown in the sizzling heat, leaving Vingegaard in full control.
"My team were amazing, above all Primoz, he gave everything, what a generous, amazing guy," Vingegaard said after that stage.
"I can't get over it," he added.
After Sunday's slog in a heatwave to the southwestern fortified city of Carcassonne the Tour takes a day off before next week's Pyrenean mountain stages where the destiny of the 2022 yellow jersey looks set to be decided.
However Vingegaard and Roglic can also expect to be challenged by Ineos pair Geraint Thomas and Adam Yates, who are third and fifth, either side of on-form French ace Romain Bardet.
"I have a lot of respect for Tadej, but maybe now I'll attack him," the Dane said Saturday.
It might be wondered if he still feels quite as confident.