Confusion seemed to be the theme at the finish of stage 5 of the Tour Down Under. First came the relegation of Caleb Ewan after he threw a series of headbutts in the direction of eventual winner Jasper Philipsen, and then came the debate over Patrick Bevin and whether he would be penalisd for taking a long tow from his team after a crash occurred inside the final 10 kilometres.
At one point an announcement came through that the race jury were looking at two incidents and that two jerseys were under review. In the end, only Ewan was sanctioned, while Bevin was taken to hospital for checks. His seven-second lead over rival Daryl Impey would stand.
At the Mitchelton-Scott bus the mood seemed relaxed, even if there was a suggestion that Impey might need to head to the podium if Bevin's tow and drafting were to face censure. The South African was having none of it. In front of the team and the small gathering of media he immediately ruled out the idea of going onto the podium and taking a jersey in such circumstances, unwilling to benefit from a rival's bad luck and crash.
At the time, there was still debate over whether Mitchelton had organized a go-slow once news filtered through of Bevin's fall. The peloton certainly seemed to ease and fan out across the road as the Kiwi remounted and gave chase, but Deceuninck-QuickStep denied that the pace dropped. Some teams suggested that they had simply 'held position' near the front rather than completely taken their foot off the gas. The general consensus from all teams, however, was that the finale was a tense and traumatic affair.
CCC Team later tipped their hat to Mitchelton-Scott for allowing the pace to ease. According to the riders it was the peloton, and not those in the cars, who decided that Bevin should be allowed to come back. EF Education First rider Michael Woods later took to Twitter and praised Impey directly. Those words from the South African at the finish line were genuine.
No protest from Mitchelton-Scott
Mitchelton also ruled out any form of protest when it came to the manner of Bevin's return the bunch.
"I told our guys that Pat had crashed and that we needed to focus on getting Daryl to the line," the team's DS Matt White told Cyclingnews.
"I don't think there was a drop in pace. It might have looked that way but teams were so nervous that they were just holding position. It was too far out for the sprint teams to starting pulling. I think it held the same pace. It looked like it on television but that's just the way it looked like. You'd need to ask the riders though."
White stressed that his team would not look to benefit from Bevin's fall - either through a complaint to the race jury or by increasing the pace. The Australian added that the road to Willunga Hill and the final summit finish of this year's race should decide the outcome of the 2019 Tour Down Under. Whether Bevin makes it that far remains to be seen. He will undergo tests on Sunday morning before a final call is made but thanks in part to the gesture of his closest rivals he at least has a chance of defending his lead.
"100 per cent we're not going to make a complaint. We want to win the bike race but no one wants to beat someone because they've crashed. What comes around goes around. It could be us tomorrow and it could be up next week. No one wants to win like that. You want to win because you're the best.
"Patrick has been as good as anyone here but all we can focus on is being the best we can be. We'll be looking after Daryl as best we can and getting him up Willunga has fast as possible. If that wins the bike race, so be it."