Former sprinter Robbie McEwen has told Cyclingnews that the race jury at the Tour Down Under overreacted and made the wrong decision in relegating Caleb Ewan in the sprint for stage 5.
Ewan had crossed the line first, having edged out Jasper Philipsen (UAE Team Emirates) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), but within a few minutes of what he believed was his first WorldTour win in Lotto Soudal colours, Ewan heard that he'd been relegated after the race jury decided that the Australian had raced dangerously. Ewan used his head several times as he fought Philipsen for position with what appeared to be head-butts as the line approached.
McEwen – a former Lotto sprinter and winner of the green jersey at the Tour de France – stuck up for his compatriot when asked by Cyclingnews if the race jury had made the right call.
"I don't think so," McEwen said. "They've only seen it from one angle and I've got my doubts that Caleb Ewan's head made contact with Philipsen on the third time. There's always contact coming into a sprint. The first two, absolutely not, the third one looked a bit spectacular and he threw the head, but I have my doubts as to whether it touched Philipsen.
"I don't think it had any bearing on the result," he continued. "There's always a fight for position in sprinting. That was my area of expertise, and I think that it's an overreaction. The commissaires feel like they need to crack down to avoid accidents and aggression that's over the top, but I think that it was just within the limits."
The scenes in the finish were slightly reminiscent of the 2010 Tour de France when Mark Renshaw, then of HTC, clashed heads with Slipstream Sports' Julian Dean. On that occasion, the Australian was disqualified from both the stage and the race. McEwen argued that Ewan's actions were considerably less extreme.
"Those [Renshaw's head-butts] were a bit bigger and more brutal. They had more contact. That's the thing for me: you're looking at the picture and you think that Caleb is throwing the head, but I just don't think that it got Philipsen. Caleb is that small that his head doesn't reach. I just don't think there was much in it."
Cyclingnews posed the question as to whether the intent from Ewan to use his head in such a manner was dangerous enough. The UCI regulation regulation that was applied in Ewan's case – 2.12.007, article 5.1 – states: Deviation from the chosen line that obstructs or endangers another rider or irregular sprint (including pulling the jersey or saddle of another rider, intimidation or threat, blow from the head, knee, elbow, shoulder, hand, etc.).
"There might be intent to do a lot of things, but if you don't do it, it doesn't count," McEwen, who is at the Tour Down Under as a television commentator, said. "I feel a bit let down after all that. It was a great finish and a great win. Philipsen doesn't want to receive a win like that. I'm sure he'll take it – it's a WorldTour win – but there wasn't enough for a DQ [relegation]."
Finally, McEwen was asked what he would say to Ewan after watching today's action and subsequent fallout.
"I'd say, 'You were the best today. Fantastic sprint. Well done. You'll get plenty more.'"