News of Tadej Pogačar's late scratch from the start list of Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège has switched up all expectations for the race, with the absence of the reigning champion and major favourite opening up more opportunities for contenders and outsiders alike.
The Slovenian made the announcement that he wouldn't be racing on Saturday morning, shortly before the team presentation in Liège. His UAE Team Emirates squad have reconfigured their plans in light of the roster change, with new leader Marc Hirschi saying the team would now approach the 257km Monument more offensively.
But how will Pogačar's absence affect the race for other teams and riders? Cyclingnews asked several big names what their thoughts were.
"It's going to definitely affect the race," Jumbo-Visma leader Wout van Aert told Cyclingnews. "I think he was, for me, the main favourite, and now it's still a lot of favourites behind him, but it will change the tactics of UAE definitely.
"I think they will maybe not control the race anymore and it will be up to other teams. We'll have to see, but we definitely need to watch other riders now to follow. I think when he was there, everybody was watching him."
Israel-Premier Tech leader Michael Woods, a runner-up four years ago and fifth place last year, said that he sympathised with Pogačar, having gone through the same thing in 2018. However, for him and his team, Pogačar not being in the race doesn't change their planned aggressive approach, he noted.
"I feel sorry for him in the sense that he's having this tough time with his family," Woods told Cyclingnews. "I've experienced that as well. In 2018, in the month before this race, my wife lost her father and it's really tough to be on the road and be away from your spouse during this tough time.
"Him not being here, I think it's going to really open up the race. Although he messed up the run-in on Wednesday, he had good legs and he certainly would have played a role in this finish on Sunday.
"For us it changes nothing. If anything, you lose a bit of an ally because even though Pogacar obviously has a great finish, but he doesn't have as strong a finish as Wout. So, you lose an ally, trying to try to get rid of one of the best sprinters and climbers in the world."
Michael Matthews, who finished fourth in 2017 and leads BikeExchange-Jayco, said that he respected Pogačar's decision to miss the race and be with fiancée Urska Zigart instead. From a racing perspective, the Australian said that having witnessed Pogačar's power on the climbs last year, his absence can only be positive for the other contenders on Sunday.
"Firstly, the situation of him not racing is obviously very sad with his fiancée's mother passing away two nights ago. I have massive respect for him not starting and supporting his family. So, from that side, I really have massive respect for him," Matthews told Cyclingnews.
"From the racing side, it definitely gives a lot of us other guys a chance to go for the finish. Like we saw last year, no one can compete with him at the final climb. So now with him not here, I think it might be a bigger bunch going to the finish."
Geraint Thomas, who will form part of a powerful Ineos Grenadiers selection including Tom Pidcock, Michał Kwiatkowski, and Dani Martínez, said that it was sad for the race that neither Pogačar nor his compatriot, 2020 champion Primož Roglič, are racing.
"Obviously that's a shame for the race," he said. "It's two of the strongest riders in the last couple of years. But there's still a hell of a lot of good bike riders in the mix.
"Everybody will fancy their chances a hell of a lot more now," he concluded.
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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.
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