Sunday's Tour of Flanders will bring the cream of the crop of the cobbled Classics specialists together as top riders from the spring Classics come together to do battle over 272km of hard racing (158km for the women) on the cobbles and hills of Flanders.
But not every Classics star will be lining up for the race towards Oudenaarde on Sunday morning. Illness and injury have seen several contenders and key riders put out of action ahead of the Tour of Flanders.
A handful of major contenders have dropped out ahead of the race, as well as several notable outsiders, with overall favourite Wout van Aert the latest name confirmed to be missing Flanders on Friday.
Here, we'll take a look at the major names who will be missing out on the action this weekend.
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)
The Belgian, who has won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the E3 Saxo Bank Classic this spring, had missed Jumbo-Visma's recon ride on Thursday with illness as his team explained he was not feeling in top shape.
Fast forward to Thursday afternoon and there was no update beyond him being "unlikely" to race. On Friday evening, however, the team dropped a video of Van Aert explaining that he wouldn't take the start on Sunday.
COVID-19 is the cause, with Van Aert having tested positive in two rapid tests and two PCR tests since feeling unwell on Thursday morning. He has mild symptoms but is still forced to miss the action at his home race.
Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies)
After five years at Bora-Hansgrohe, the 2016 winner has turned over a new leaf with his new French squad, but he has endured a mixed start to the season, to say the least.
A sprint fourth place at Tirreno-Adriatico and fifth at Milano-Torino have done little to counteract what has been a poor spring campaign for the Slovakian. Last week he finished 68th at E3 and was a DNF at Gent-Wevelgem, and on Monday he took the decision to miss Flanders.
Instead of racing the Monument he won in 2016, Sagan will take time out to undergo blood tests and a fitness check-up in order to get to the bottom of his poor form so far in 2022. He and his TotalEnergies team will hope for some clarification on his condition, whether it's down to catching COVID-19 in January, stomach problem at Tirreno-Adriatico, or a lack of pre-season training.
Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Qazaqstan)
Following a limited early season campaign which saw him win the Clásica Jaén Paraiso Interior gravel race and place ninth at the Vuelta a Andalucía, the Kazakhstani rider has been away at training camps for much of March.
He was listed on the provisional start list for the Tour of Flanders, where he finished a career-best 14th in 2016, before he was set to take on the Ardennes Classics. However, a crash on the descent of Mount Teide put paid to his hopes of racing.
The 29-year-old was heading down the mountain last Saturday when a gust of wind took him down. He suffered a fractured collarbone and shoulder in the crash and looks set to miss the rest of the spring Classics.
Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo)
Quinn Simmons' spot on Trek-Segafredo's team was in doubt after he struggled in the last three Belgian classics. The American was one of many riders who got sick during the week of Tirreno-Adriatico or Paris-Nice and a DNF in Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday knocked him out of the team, Trek-Segafredo confirmed on Thursday.
Simmons was on fine form during Tirreno-Adriatico, where he won the mountains classification after going on the attack several times. The winner of last year's Tour de Wallonie and the 2019 Junior World Champion is seen as a future contender for the Tour of Flanders, but not this season.
Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-EasyPost)
EF Education-EasyPost have endured a tough Classics season so far, with the men in pink making little impact on the cobbles. So far, they lie a lowly 22nd in the UCI rankings, having picked up three wins so far in 2022.
Bissegger is responsible for one of those, the time trial at the UAE Tour, but he won't be lining up at the Tour of Flanders in Antwerp on Sunday. The Swiss powerhouse fell ill at Paris-Nice and has now fallen ill once again.
Posting to Instagram (opens in new tab) on Thursday, he said that he felt sick at Gent-Wevelgem and hadn't recovered at Dwars door Vlaanderen. "We decided to skip the Ronde on Sunday," he wrote. "This is not how I imagined my Classics season, but that's life."
Sep Vanmarcke (Israel-Premier Tech)
Israel-Premier Tech's Classics team, who came of age at Paris-Roubaix last year with two top 10 finishes, have endured little but bad luck so far this spring. Team leader Sep Vanmarcke has so far missed Opening Weekend with a cold before getting sick at training camp earlier this month, ruling him out of Nokere Koerse.
On Friday, the team announced that they would not be taking part in the race at all, citing not having enough fit riders among their ranks to take the start. At Wednesday's Dwars door Vlaanderen the team started with just three riders, with Vanmarcke describing a "funeral atmosphere" on the team bus in the morning.
Sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo was already out of action for Sunday's race. The Italian, who looked in good form at Milan-San Remo, was involved in a crash on the Poggio descent, ruling him out of the Classic Brugge-De Panne and the rest of the Belgian spring with a fractured bone in his left wrist.
Tom Van Asbroeck, who finished eighth at Roubaix last year, was also already out this weekend. On Tuesday the team announced would miss the rest of the Classics after suffering a superficial vein thrombosis [blood clot] in his arm after a crash.
Dries Van Gestel (TotalEnergies)
Belgian rider Van Gestel wasn't a well-known name among Classics fans before this spring, but the 27-year-old had ridden himself into a leadership role at TotalEnergies after a string of impressive performances.
During his spring campaign, Van Gestel has taken sixth at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, seventh at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and also won the Ronde van Drenthe. Last week he commaded greater attention after taking third place from the late attack group at Gent-Wevelgem.
He was all set to be co-leader of the French squad alongside Anthony Turgis on Sunday, but was forced to pull out of the race due to illness on Friday.
Riders in doubt and others missing out
So far, the women's peloton has enjoyed a far lower attrition rate by comparison to the men's. As of Thursday afternoon, all of the major contenders were still confirmed to be lining up to race.
In the men's peloton, Yves Lampaert (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) has already ruled himself out as a contender for the title on Sunday. He's coming back from illness, and has said, "I can ride tempo, but the explosiveness is not there. Sunday comes too soon for me."
Former winner Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) is also making a return from illness, having been taken out of action by COVID-19 and ulcerative colitis at the start of March.
Elsewhere, world champion Julian Alaphilippe will not be part of the QuickStep-AlphaVinyl lineup for the race, despite some rumours to the contrary after he was spotted training in Flanders with team Classics leader Kasper Asgreen earlier this week.
Gent-Wevelgem winner Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) flew home to Eritrea after his sensational victory at the race, opting against extending his spring once again in order to make his Flanders debut.
Finally, the in-form Max Walscheid (Cofidis) wasn't on the provisional start list for the race despite winning the GP Denain and placing fourth at the Classic Brugge-De Panne. He's out of action after being hit head-on by a car driver while out training last week.
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Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.