Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Lotta Henttala hasn’t raced since May 2021, but she looked like she hadn’t missed a day when she picked up second on her first race day in almost two years.
Competing for the AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step squad, the Finnish sprinter sped to second place on the opening stage of the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana. She was the only rider that could hold onto the coattails of former world champion Elisa Balsamo as she blasted to the stage win with American racer Coryn Rivera taking third.
Prior to the Valencian stage race, Henttala hadn’t ridden in the bunch since the 2021 Vuelta a Burgos after finding out she was pregnant. While she gave birth to her son Olavi at the start of last year, she did not have a contract for 2022 and only raced a couple of amateur events.
“It was super special to have Olavi there,” Henttala said. “It’s super nice to be back but it was hectic with a peloton of 160. I needed to find my place and rhythm again which is normal of course. The team played an important role in that. We rode together really nicely until the final where I said I would do my own sprint and follow some wheels.”
- Lotta Henttala returns to the pro peloton after 18-month maternity leave break
- Giro Rosa: Lepisto wins stage 6; Van der Breggen leads GC
- Lepistö’s stock continues rise at women’s Gent-Wevelgem
Henttala is a seven-time Finnish national road race champion and has taken wins at Gent-Wevelgem, Dwars door Vlaanderen and Vårgårda WestSweden.
After such a long time out of the pack, there are still some things to with on for the 33-year-old. Her sprint didn’t go completely to plan, but it was still a very strong start to her return season.
“Jolien [D’hoore, DS] said I should go into the last corner [in] third or fourth place which I did in fourth. I knew what to do but I hesitated a bit in the end and then braked a little. I don’t know why. But a second place after three years not racing is amazing. I can be happy with this because I got beaten by a former world champion.”
Henttala’s performance received plaudits from her teammates, including fellow new signing Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio. The pair were among the four new signings that made up the AG Insurance roster at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana.
“It was really amazing how the team spirit and the work we did at training camp translated in the race from the very first second. It was incredible to see how we rode together so well with good communication throughout the day,” Moolman-Pasio said.
“It was so nice to see how confidently calm Lotta was. I could see straight from the start she was happy, motivated, and calm and knew we would have a result. It all came together and it’s special to be part of it.”
There may be two more opportunities for Henttala to test out her sprint at the four-day race with stages 2 and 4 potentially ending with a bunch finish of some kind.