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Dongfeng wins around-the-world Volvo Ocean Race

Leg 11, from Gothenburg to The Hague, day 02. LIVE coverage as the fleet round the Aarhus Fly-By mark. 22 June, 2018. (Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race)

Team Dongfeng and French skipper Charles Caudrelier made a last-leg navigational gamble pay off to win the Volvo Ocean Race, prevailing in a three-boat sprint to the finish line off the Dutch coast on Sunday to claim victory in the eight-month, 12-port, 45,000-nautical mile regatta.

The Chinese boat arrived in The Hague, Netherlands, at 5:22 p.m., about 20 minutes ahead of second-place MAPFRE to win the leg and claim a bonus point for the fastest total circumnavigation of the globe. It was the first leg victory for Dongfeng, which left Gothenburg, Sweden, on Thursday one point behind MAPFRE and Team Brunel in the standings.

Caudrelier took the helm of the 72-foot (22-meter) yacht with about 12 nautical miles to go as spectator boats gathered around the red-sailed Dongfeng and escorted it to the finish just offshore. The sailors waited until crossing the line before bursting into cheers.

"I said, 'I have to win the leg,'" said Caudrelier, who led Dongfeng to a third-place finish in the last edition three years ago. "I have such a great team around us. We trusted in our choice and we win. They didn't follow us, and we win."

The race began in Alicante, Spain, in October and came down to a decision on the 11th and final leg — at 700 nautical miles, the shortest of the race — on Saturday night, when the boats had to decide whether to navigate close to the German shore or sail farther out into the North Sea to avoid other marine traffic.

Dongfeng and another boat, Turn the Tide on Plastic, were the only ones in the seven-boat fleet to take the inshore route, which was slower at the start.

"It was pretty intense the whole time," Dongfeng crewmember Carolijn Brouwer said. "When we split from MAPFRE, there was some pretty intense moments. But we studied this pretty hard. Whether to go inshore or offshore, we knew we were going to do it inshore."

Dongfeng, which finished in the top 4 of every leg but had never won one, finished with 72 points, compared with 70 for MAPFRE and 69 for Team Brunel. AkzoNobel was fourth in the race, followed by Vestas 11th Hour Racing.

Sun Hung Kai Scallywag and Turn the Tide on Plastic were tied heading into the otherwise ceremonial in-port race in The Hague on Saturday.

"We have been a steady team. We have been among the top three most of the time," Dongfeng bowman Kevin Escoffier said, adding that the team wasn't afraid to lose sight of the competition and trust in a different course.

"Each leg we are the boat to be the way we are sailing, alone," he said. "We won this leg. We won the Volvo. We know how to sail."

The crew of 11 men and three women — nine sailors took part in most legs — came from six different countries. Crewmembers Brouwer and Marie Riou and headsail trimmer Justine Mettraux are the first women to win the race.

"We always said we were going to win a leg in the Volvo Ocean Race, and there's no better leg to win than the last one," Brouwer said. "My goal was to win the race, to be the first woman to do it is great."

The Chinese victory deprived Brunel skipper Bouwe Bekking of a victory in his eighth attempt at the around-the-world race.

"Third place. Still a podium. I think we can all be very proud as a team," said Bekking, who made his first attempt in the 1985-86 edition.

"I must be nuts a little bit, but I just love it and I think that's the main thing," he said. "It's one of these things in life, you can't let it go. The Volvo Ocean Race is totally in my grips."

Crewmen Peter Burling of Brunel and Blair Tuke of MAPFRE had been vying for the so-called Triple Crown of sailing, having already won the America's Cup, with Emirates Team New Zealand, and an Olympic gold medal together in the 49er class in Rio de Janeiro.

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