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Julie Leth Blog: Perfecting the leadout train in China

After a month of no racing, I headed to China with the team. I was excited to start racing again. We put the punchy steep climbs of the classics behind us, and got ready for three flat days.

I have not yet done a stage in Tour of Chongming Island which has not ended up in a bunch sprint. Furthermore, with two important time bonus sprints in each stage, we had three sprints a day. We don’t get that many opportunities in a season to do full team leadouts, so China is the perfect place to practice.

Stage 1 didn’t pan out the way we had hoped. We were unlucky, with Jolien and Grace coming down with 60km/h in the leadout to the first intermediate sprint. We tried with a few small leadouts, but didn’t quite nail them. Nettie finished 4th. We all wanted more. We knew we could do better, so we learned from our mistakes, and made a plan for stage 2. Our communication and timing needed to improve for us to succeed.

At the end stage 2, we all gathered at the back of the bunch. We got in position, but we had to stay calm for a little longer. I felt the nerves creeping up on me. Keeping it cool was hard. We were eager, but knew we had to wait until the last 2-3km before hitting the front! I lead the team with Amy on my wheel, followed by Grace, Lucy, Nettie, and Jolien. I started moving up slowly on the right hand side of the peloton to get us in position, while I could hear the girls telling me to wait to launch. With 4-5km to go we found ourselves a bit blocked in on the right hand side. I started to get nervous. Did we pick the wrong side? I knew I would loose the rest of the girls, if I tried squishing through the peloton, but my gut also told me, an opening would come. I felt confident, we, as a team, were strong enough to go to the front, when that happened. Soon enough, Hitec launched their train on the left, and there our opening came. Amy passed me, and I jumped in between her and Grace. Now we all just had one job. We had to take our pulls. Go as hard and fast, as we possibly could, before pulling out. Going all out with your entire team sat behind you, ready to finish off the job, feels pretty awesome. I can only imagine, how amazing it must be, being sat as the sprinter at the back. Everyone did a great job, and Jolien finished it off perfectly, by taking the stage win and the yellow jersey! Winning as a team, felt so good!!

With the final of stage 3 being defined by crosswinds and many attacks, we didn’t mange to execute another close to perfect leadout, but that’s often how it goes in cycling. We just had to roll with it. Help Jolien to the front, keep her out of the wind, and put her on a good wheel. What I have come to learn about her is that if she says she feels good and can win the sprint, she won’t let you down. She crossed the line first. 

We left China with two stage wins, the overall GC, and more sprint train experience. During the tour, our communication and trust in each other increased considerably, and I am sure we will benefit from this the rest of the season.

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