Sweeny was in the early break at the race, and along the way put in a stint of work for his teammate, eventual runner-up Florian Vermeersch, before finishing 39th himself.
It was an impressive way to end an eye-catching first season, which saw him work in the lead-out train for three of teammate Caleb Ewan’s season victories, as well as making his Grand Tour debut at the Tour de France, where he took a third place from the break on stage 12.
Cyclingnews caught up with Sweeny in the days before his Paris-Roubaix bow, near the famous Trouée d’Arenberg, with the Queenslander fresh off a recon of the cobbles.
Cyclingnews: So we’re at the end of a stellar debut season for you. Has it been what you expected?
Harry Sweeny: I didn’t expect to do the Tour. I knew I was going to be doing a Grand Tour and it was most likely going to be the Giro with Caleb, or the Vuelta, depending on my condition. But because I got COVID I had to miss the Giro. I only had four weeks to get into shape beforehand and then it sort of just fell into place a little bit.
I was going really well when the Tour selection was happening, and I was top 10 in the Dauphiné on a stage and then I went directly to Belgium to do the lead-out with Caleb. I had like 14 race days in 15 days and I think that was enough for the team to say ‘he’s in good shape for it’. I didn’t expect it at all, but it’s really transformed my year a bit of an unexpected way.
CN: And obviously you went there and got that third place in Nîmes.
HS: Yeah, even the guys that I was with in the breakaway on that stage reinforced that it was a good ride. That kind of thing just reinforces that I’ve been doing good things this year.
CN: And now a Paris-Roubaix debut. Is this your kind of race?
HS: For sure. I absolutely loved the recon. The cobbles are really something I love. I did a bit as a junior and an U23. Well, I never actually started U23 Roubaix because I had a concussion so I just went to sign-on. But I love this sort of stuff.
CN: Looking at your palmarès, you seemed more like a hilly or punchy kind of rider having won Il Piccolo Lombardia last year. I didn’t expect you to like these cobbles so much.
HS: It’s a bit of a strange mix for anyone looking up my stats but I think it’s one of those things where the more I develop as a rider the more I’ll be able to find my niche. I’m sort of learning that at every race I go to. I’d say I’m more towards Classics and time trials, but I feel like I’m a bit of an all-rounder. I’ve got enough climbing ability to get over in some reduced bunches and I think it’s something I’ll find out in the next few years.
CN: You spent a few years at the [now folded] Mitchelton-Scott Development Team, then raced at Lotto Soudal’s last year. So why them and why not BikeExchange?
HS: I chose them really because they were the only team that had a vision of where they wanted my career to go. They also had a use for me immediately in the lead-out train, so it sort of gave me more than one facet that I could use in the pro team.
It wasn’t just that I’m going there to develop and see how I go – it was like ‘you’re going immediately into the lead-out’ and anything else was a bonus. So I think that’s been really good in shaping my first year as a pro being able to have the freedom to learn what I’m good at and also have a strict purpose with Caleb.
CN: What has your path to the pros been beyond the Development teams?
HS: It’s only been I think my sixth season as a cyclist. Before that I was a triathlete and I had a stress fracture in my femur and I couldn’t run any more. I started cycling a lot more and moved over that way, so I’m still pretty fresh compared to those guys who have been doing it since they were eight years old or something.
CN: Do you have any icons in the pro peloton? Anybody you’d look up to and think ‘I want to be like that guy’?
HS: Ah, it was actually pretty funny, I was doing Tro-Bro Léon earlier this year and I was leading Phil [Gilbert] into one of the dirt sectors and I said to him ‘it’s crazy that I used to watch him on TV and now I’m doing that role for him’. For sure, Phil was – it’s incredible to be lining up with him in the same team. It’s pretty phenomenal.
CN: It won’t be long before we’re all already looking at 2022. What are your plans and hopes for your sophomore season?
HS: I’d like to gain experience – obviously there’s this year in Roubaix – and then next year I can go into the Classics with a mindset of targeting some results there. I’d also love to go back to the Tour but depending on what Grand Tours Caleb wants to do I’ll be in the mix there because that’ll be an important role for me as well. Then I would love to work on my time trialling in the winter a bit because I think I’ve got a lot of potential there, so we’ll see.