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It’ll go down as one of the most dramatic days in Tour Down Under history. The day the overall leader crashed heavily, jeopardising his chances of a breakout victory. The day the stage winner was controversially relegated for an “irregular sprint”.
Two dramatic incidents in the space of half an hour, both of them newsworthy enough on their own. Together, they ensure stage 5 of the 2019 TDU will remain in memory for many years to come.
The stage had been going so well for Paddy Bevin (CCC). At the intermediate sprints he’d put five more seconds into the climbers ahead of Sunday’s final-stage showdown on Willunga Hill. Better still, he’d avoided losing any time to Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott), the defending champion nabbing at his heels.
Bevin had managed to stay in contention when Jumbo-Visma and Sky tried to split the race in the crosswinds in the final 50km. And with 10km to go the overall leader was well positioned as the bunch roared toward a sprint finish in Strathalbyn.
And then it all fell apart. Out of nowhere, a touch of wheels brought Bevin to the ground at roughly 50km/h.
The initial signs weren’t good. The Kiwi struggled to his feet, his right knee clearly giving him grief. With some assistance he managed to fold himself over a new bike before beginning a frantic chase back to the bunch.
To start with it looked like the peloton had sat up; to wait as Bevin made his way back. But soon the pace was increasing as the teams of the sprinters drove the bunch towards the finish.
Bevin had several teammates to assist in the chase, so too the cars of the convoy. His ochre jersey, so similar in colour to his regular team jersey, had been shredded. Blood streamed from his elbow and knee.
The Kiwi rejoined the peloton with about 2.5km to go and swiftly made his way up through the group. He eventually crossed the finish in 43rd place, receiving bunch time as Caleb Ewan threw his hands in the air as first across the line.
A few minutes later, Bevin made his way gingerly to the ambulance, his left arm folded ominously across his chest. He walked with a crook in his step, a cocktail of pain and frustration on his face. Seemingly poised for overall victory with just one day to go, the 27-year-old’s fortunes had taken a turn for the terrible.
And all the while, another drama was unfolding.
The podium ceremony had been thrown into disarray. It wasn’t just that overall leader Bevin wouldn’t be in attendance, it wasn’t even clear who the stage winner was. Commentator Dave McKenzie explained to the waiting crowd that there would be a delay in proceedings as commissaires reviewed footage of the final sprint.
The official ruling came through a few minutes later. “Your stage winner,” began McKenzie, pausing for dramatic effect, “from Team UAE Emirates” — a shorter pause — “is Jasper Philipsen!” The race jury had relegated Ewan for an “irregular sprint” after the young Australian threw several headbuts at Philipsen in the finishing straight.
Applause for Philipsen was muted as the 20-year-old Belgian stepped out on stage. The Strathalbyn crowd had been expecting to see Ewan up there; to be celebrating the first Australian stage win of this year’s Tour and Ewan’s first WorldTour win for Lotto-Soudal. But it wasn’t to be.
Behind the podium, a steely faced Ewan grabbed his bike and rode away on his own, leaving his soigneur and the waiting media behind. His only comment would come later via a Lotto-Soudal press release.
“During the final kilometres, 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,” Ewan 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.
“Of course, I have to accept the decision taken by the jury, but I don’t agree with it. I wanted to protect myself and the whole peloton against a crash. The commissaires did not listen to our side of the story before taking the final decision. It will take a couple of days to process the disappointment.”
Philipsen doesn’t have a clear view on how things played out. He recalls Ewan making contact as the pair jostled for Sagan’s wheel but he’s at pains to determine the right and wrong of it.
“For me it went all so fast so it was hard to see if it was wrong or not,” he said post-podium. “But I was just happy about my feeling. I was just happy that I actually took second in the stage and now it’s a bit of a strange feeling to win.”
Strange because it’s a win that sparks mixed emotions. One the one hand, he’ll go down as the winner of a WorldTour stage just five days after joining the big leagues — no mean feat. On the other, it’s not the way anyone wants to win a bike race.
“I think it’s always different if you can raise your hands in the air while you win,” he said. “But after it the result’s going to stand and I’m going to be the first there. So it’s a bit double[-edged]” but I’m still young. Hopefully a real win will follow the [next] few years. I’m just doing my best.”
Philipsen and his team will celebrate victory this evening, while Ewan and his will rue what might have been. Lotto-Soudal will maintain that their young sprinter did nothing wrong, that his head movements were a case of self-defence and nothing more.
But it’s Bevin and CCC that will most regret the events of today. Scans showed no fractures from the crash but Bevin has suffered multiple contusions plus bruises to his ribs and hip. And there are further concerns about concussion — Bevin’s progress will be monitored overnight and the team will decide in the morning whether he’s able to start.
“I’m pretty banged up right now but I really hope that I will be able to line up tomorrow,” Bevin said in a statement. After the show Bevin has put on this week, it’s hard to imagine anyone hoping otherwise.
UPDATE: Paddy Bevin will start the final stage of the 2019 Tour Down Under.
Follow the link for full results from stage 5 of the 2019 Santos Tour Down Under.