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Sweeny: Surreal to be fighting for a Tour de France victory in neo-pro year

NMES FRANCE JULY 08 Harry Sweeny of Australia and Team Lotto Soudal 3rd place at arrival during the 108th Tour de France 2021 Stage 12 a 1594km stage from SaintPaulTroisChateaux to Nimes LeTour TDF2021 on July 08 2021 in Nmes France Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Harry Sweeny (Lotto Soudal) after coming across the line in third place on stage 12 of the 2021 Tour de France (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Harry Sweeny may be just six months into his career as a WorldTour professional rider but on stage 12 of the Tour de France the Australian was in a position many spend their whole career dreaming of: out the front of the Tour de France battling for a stage win.

The Lotto Soudal rider initiated the crucial attack from the break at around 40 kilometres to go on the 159 kilometre stage to Nîmes, creating a gap with a surge on the climb that looked effortless, particularly because the Australian started it with an energy bar hanging from his mouth as he finished a feed. 

Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) was the first rider to follow the Australian, evidently labouring to close the gap, after which Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe) came across with Imanol Erviti (Movistar) on his wheel.

At around 15 kilometres to go Sweeny then launched another attack that hurt Küng and cut the group down to three. Politt, however, soon after took off on his own, maintaining the gap to the line, while Erviti beat Sweeny in the sprint after he was forced into the position of leading the Movistar rider to the line.

“I knew I was capable of doing this but tactically, it’s another thing,” said Sweeny. “Maybe I made a few mistakes in the final, but I can’t be disappointed with this result.

“It really was a tactical game at the end and maybe I showed my strength a little bit too much. Politt saw that and took a little advantage of it. However, I have only been pro for six months, so I have to be satisfied with third place.”

It is the first podium for Sweeny since he turned professional with Lotto Soudal at the start of this year after having already ridden for the U23 team. This is not only his Tour de France debut, but also his first Grand Tour. The Queenslander, who celebrates his 23rd birthday on Friday, come onto the Tour squad as part of the lead out for fellow Australian Caleb Ewan, who had to abandon with a broken collarbone on stage 3.

“To be honest, it felt a bit surreal to fight for the stage victory,” said Sweeny. “I didn’t expect to be at the Tour this year, let alone to be performing at this level.”

The initial break, which Sweeny went onto split, got away early in the stage as thirteen riders quickly stretched out a substantial gap to the peloton, which extended beyond 15 minutes. The break, which also contained Sweeny’s teammate Brent van Moer, worked well together until it became clear that they were far enough ahead of the peloton to turn their focus toward the battle for a stage win.

Politt ignited the hostilities at around 50 kilometres to go. Connor Swift (Arkea-Samsic) and later Luka Mezgec (Team BikeExchange) joined him, but the rest of the group launched a fierce chase and brought the trio in after five kilometres. Then it wasn’t long before Sweeny took advantage of the worn lead group and initiated the attack that stuck, while Van Moer sat back in the group and tried to disrupt the chase.

“We were the only team with two riders in the front group so we could play it tactically,” said  Van Moer, who ended the stage in eighth place. 

“And that is what we did because when Harry attacked in the final, I did my work and tried to slow things down in the chasing group. I am happy for Harry but when you’re with two in the breakaway, you want to win of course.”

Sweeny, who consistently looked strong out in the break, said he felt that his best chance of moving himself into a winning position from the group of four was by riding away from his rivals as the road turned upwards on an unclassified climb about 15 kilometres from the line.

“I was hoping that the final climb would be a little harder,” said Sweeny. “I attacked there and hoped it would be a little too hard for the others but they made it back and that is where I lost my legs a little bit. 

“I knew I wouldn’t have a good enough sprint to beat those guys so I had to try something. I’ve done everything to try and win the stage, so I can be happy.”