UAE Team Emirates rider Jasper Philipsen's first WorldTour victory came in unusual circumstances following Caleb Ewan's (Lotto Soudal) demotion for an 'irregular sprint' on stage 5 of the Tour Down Under on Saturday.
After initially being awarded the stage victory, Ewan was relegated by the race jury to the final place in the first group across the line after the Australian sprinter had appeared to headbutt Philipsen in the fight for position in the final kilometre. Philipsen was then handed the stage win, with Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Danny van Poppel (Jumbo-Visma) rounding out the podium in second and third, respectively.
"The first thing that happened with Caleb was that I think we were both trying to be in a good position. I was in the wind and I just wanted to also get on the wheel so that I didn't lose energy for the sprint," Philipsen told reporters after the podium presentation.
"I think he just hit me twice with his head, and then the jury has decided it was wrong. For me, it all happened so fast. It was hard to see if it was wrong or not. I was just happy to have taken second on the stage, so it's a bit of a strange feeling to win, but for sure I respect the decision of the jury."
Helicopter footage of the final few hundred metres showed Ewan used his head to fight for position as both he and Philipsen jostled for Sagan's wheel. But while Ewan's directeur sportif, Mario Aerts, defended his sprinter's actions, the race jury's decision was definitive.
UAE Team Emirates sports director Neil Stephens confirmed to Cyclingnews after the stage that no official complaint was brought by the team.
"I don't know [who first made the decision/contacted the commissaires]," Philipsen said. "The first I knew was when [DS] Mauro [Gianetti] told me, so I have no idea.
"It happened on the final straight with maybe 350 metres to go," he continued. "I was a bit on the right and in the wind, but I wanted to be on Sagan's wheel. I think Caleb was there and he tried to knock me a bit out with his head. I'm not going to decide if it was wrong or not. It's was the jury's decision, so I can only respect it."
The stage victory is the 20-year-old Belgian's first as a WorldTour rider, coming just five days into his WorldTour career after spending the 2018 season with Axel Merckx's Hagens Berman Axeon development team in the United States.
Philipsen won a stage at the Tour of Utah in his time with the team, and hopes more wins will come as he embarks on his WorldTour career, although in more normal circumstances.
"I think it's always different if you can raise your hands in the air when you win," said Philipsen. "I've got mixed feelings, but I'm still young, so hopefully a real win will follow in the coming years. We'll see, as I'm just doing my best.
"It's always stressful in a sprint finish. It feels a bit strange to be actually second and Caleb won, so I wanted to congratulate him for his great sprint. It was the jury's decision and I have to respect it, but for sure I'm happy to take the win," he repeated.
"The stage will mark a successful opening race for UAE Team Emirates' 2019 season. However, with the final stage of the race to come on Sunday, the team still have two riders in Jan Polanc and Tadej Pogačar – the latter another promising 20-year-old – sitting in a group of 14 riders all 26 seconds behind current race leader Patrick Bevin (CCC Team), who crashed in the final 10km of the stage. It remained to be seen a few hours after the stage finish whether the New Zealander would be able to start Sunday's final stage.
"For sure, tomorrow is a day for the GC guys," said Philipsen. "I'll just to do my best for the team and we'll try to change our placings on the general classification. At the moment, the week has gone pretty well for us, but we'll keep trying for one last day and leave it all on the road."