Caleb Ewan has been relegated from stage five of the Tour Down Under in what was a dramatic day of racing that saw injured race leader Patrick Bevin transported to the hospital.
Ewan (Lotto Soudal) was waiting behind the podium for the winner’s ceremony when it was announced he had been disqualified for headbutting Jasper Philipsen (UAE Team Emirates).
Lotto Soudal sports director Mario Aerts reviewed overhead race footage with UCI officials after the stage, which Philipsen was awarded, and argued Ewan’s movements were to maintain balance and avoid the barrier, not irregular.
“It looks spectacular but if they can’t use their hands, they have to use something else of their body. It’s a heavy decision for a light thing to do, actually. I asked if an appeal was possible, but no the decision of the jury is definitive,” he said.
Aerts said he was “guessing” UAE Team Emirates sports director Neil Stephens lodged a protest that led to the relegation. That has not been verified.
“That’s what I said to the jury, how can you take a decision without consulting all the parties?” he said.
Stephens was at the Lotto Soudal team van post-race, talking to Ewan’s dejected teammates who were waiting for the 24-year-old. Ewan had ridden off on his own before returning to the van. He declined to speak to media. UCI officials also fined him 500 Swiss Francs ($700) and issued a 15-point deduction and 30 second time penalty.
“It’s, of course, unfair to me,” said Aerts. “I went to the jury to see the helicopter images because they said Philipsen was in the wheel of [Peter] Sagan but I disagreed.
“We saw the helicopter images and in the last corner, Ewan was in the wheel of Sagan, Philipsen came through underneath to get the wheel of [Elia] Viviani. After the turn, Sagan passes Philipsen again to get the wheel of Vivani with Ewan on his wheel. Then, Philipsen tries to get in between Ewan and Sagan. Of course, Caleb does not want to go in the barriers and he uses his head to stay up straight.”
Stage five was the final opportunity for sprinters of the race, meaning Ewan goes home empty-handed in his first WorldTour event with Lotto Soudal, which he joins this year as its marquee sprinter.
Australian cycling great Robbie McEwen disagreed with the verdict of UCI officials.
“I’ve got my doubts if Caleb Ewan’s head made contact with Philipsen the third time. There is always contact coming into a sprint. The first two absolutely not, nothing. The third one looked spectacular but I’ve got my doubts as to if it actually touched. I don’t think it had any bearing on the result. There is always a fight for position, that’s part of sprinting,” McEwen said.
Bevin (CCC) crashed heavily with 10km remaining. He finished the stage with the main group but was taken to hospital by ambulance immediately afterwards for scans. The Tour Down Under finishes tomorrow.