Geraint Thomas lost key ally Luke Rowe as the Team INEOS rider was thrown out of the Tour de France after an ugly clash in the Alps.
Rowe, a fellow Welshman and childhood friend of defending Tour champion Thomas, was expelled by organisers along with former time trial world champion Tony Martin.
It leaves INEOS without their road captain heading into the crucial mountain stages on the final week of the race, dealing a blow to the hopes Thomas, who sits second, has of retaining his title.
Television footage appeared to show 34-year-old German Martin try to nudge Rowe off the road in the closing stages of the stage-17 ride from Nimes to Gap.
Sir Dave Brailsford, general manager of Team INEOS, said: "They've decided to expel Tony and Luke from the race which feels incredibly harsh if I'm honest.
"I've just had a watch of the clip and there's no doubt about it, they have a little bit - Tony cut up Luke a little bit, he's fought for his position a little bit, nothing more than you'd see on most days of the race."
Brailsford called it a "pretty harsh decision", suggesting a "yellow card would have been merited", adding: "It feels a bit severe to me."
Welshman Rowe said: "To come here with this team alongside a bunch of good mates, I just feel like I've let them down. We were both trying to do a job, maybe we both overstepped the mark slightly but it feels harsh to be thrown off the race. Neither of us deserve that. It's pretty hard."
He had earlier dismissed any suggestion of a serious problem with Jumbo-Visma man Martin, and the 29-year-old British rider said the pair swiftly put the incident behind them.
Rowe said: "I rode over the line with him and all good. We shook hands. We just got in each other’s way and that's bike racing, no stress, all good."
Rowe told reporters, after being asked if there was a "malicious" side to the episode: "I don't know how many Tour de Frances you've ridden, but it does get a bit tense out there at times."
Thomas had struck a similar note when asked for his verdict on the flash point immediately after the race.
Speaking on ITV4, Thomas said it was the job of such riders to get their team's star men into strong positions.
"They always end up jostling for position and things, and that's what was happening but nothing crazy really," said Thomas.