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ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) defended his actions in a controversial sprint finale Saturday that saw him relegated from what looked to be his first WorldTour win in his new jersey.
The UCI race jury ruled that a pair of headbutts in the final charge to the line in the fifth stage of the Santos Tour Down Under went too far. Ewan might have been first across the line, but he was relegated and Jasper Philipsen, a neo-pro on UAE-Team Emirates, was awarded the win.
In what’s no surprise, Ewan took issue with the ruling.
“I have to accept the decision taken by the jury, but I don’t agree with it,” Ewan said. “I wanted to protect myself and the whole peloton against a crash.”
Ewan and Lotto-Soudal sports director Mario Aerts approached the UCI jury, but their comments fell on deaf ears. UAE-Team Emirates sports director Neil Stephens denied he made a formal protest in the wake of the sprint, insisting he only asked what they jury would do.
“The commissaires did not listen to our side of the story before taking the final decision,” Ewan said. “It will take a couple of days to process the disappointment.”
Blatant cases of headbutting almost always result in relegation, and in some cases, disqualification and removal from the race. In 2010, Mark Renshaw was kicked out of the Tour de France following a tussle during a final sprint. Australian sprinters Robbie McEwen and Stuart O’Grady famously clashed with their heads in a sprint during the 2005 Tour.
In fact, McEwen, now working as a broadcaster at the Tour Down Under, came to Ewan’s defense. Speaking to Dan Benson, McEwen said he thought the jury got it wrong.
“I don’t think it had any bearing on the result,” McEwen said. “There’s always a fight for position in sprinting. That was my area of expertise and I think that it’s an over-reaction. The commissaires feel like they need to crack down and avoid accidents and aggression that’s over the top but I think that it was just within the limits.”
In reviewing video, it’s hard to tell how much contact there was between the riders in Ewan’s headbutting maneuvers.
Ewan said he was simply defending his position on Peter Sagan’s wheel.
“I was on Peter Sagan’s wheel but Philipsen tried to take that spot as he tried to push me out of Sagan’s wheel,” he said. “You are not allowed to take your hands off the handlebars in the sprint so I used my head to avoid ending up in the barriers. Head movements are of course clearly visible on a helicopter shot but a lot of former sprinters will confirm that my manoeuvre was not irregular.”
Ewan, who won a criterium last weekend to open a week of racing in Australia, will hope to make amends before leaving home roads. He’ll try to get the big win next weekend at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in Geelong before heading to the UAE Tour and Europe.