One year, one month and four days after giving birth to her son Olavi, Lotta Henttala sprinted to a second place in her first race back in the peloton and in her first race for AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step. The return to racing in Valencia this February was a big success but it naturally came with doubts after her pregancy.
“I had been out two years and didn’t know how I would feel. Would my form be enough to even have my place in the peloton again? I was thinking that maybe they would drop me or something. I felt reassured at training camp but Valencia was the ultimate reassurance. I still have my place. It turned out pretty good and better than I expected,” she smiles.
“I wasn’t scared in the first sprints but I also didn’t take excessive risks. I knew that if I wanted to do this and get results, I needed to be at the front. But to be honest, I didn’t take risks that I maybe would have taken before I had Olavi. In the last kilometer when someone would push me around, I wouldn’t let that happen either. I would never be in the position to win if I didn’t go for it. It’s all about the balance.”
After a promising start to the Spring Classics season, Lotta got ill and had to watch the other classics from the sideline. This was not ideal but it gave her a lot of time with her son. Now she is preparing for a second return to the peloton. For this Mother’s Day we sat down to talk how Lotta, her pro cyclist husband Joonas and the Henttala – Lepistö family combines taking care of Olavi with a career in pro cycling.
“I think the most important is that Olavi is a really easy child,” says Lotta from her home in Girona where the two family pugs greet me with lots of enthusiasm. “The pregnancy went well but the birth wasn’t easy. It was an emergency c-section. The difference with other mums in the pro peloton is that by that time, in January 2022, pro cycling or a comeback were never on my mind.”
Lotta’s love from cycling came back naturally from the end of April. She started training again with a trainer in August when Olavi was just six months. She did it differently than other moms in the bunch.
“So, I didn’t have a plan how to get through pregnancy and birth to return to cycling. I didn’t have a contract and no team to make the plan on the comeback. I just did what I thought was good, I did what felt good. I was in the baby bubble for months and when I started riding, I was so unfit. It was amazing how fast it all returned though. In hindsight I wouldn’t have done anything differently.”
Olavi’s grandparents were and still are vital to the comeback plan. Having a network is absolutely necessary and Lotta and Joonas are happy to have supportive parents and friends.
“My mum took three months off work for this busy spring classics season. She is a kindergarten teacher. Sadly, I missed almost all the races but she wanted to do this for us. My parents didn’t want me to have any regrets that I didn’t try one more time, especially with the Olympics in Paris 2024. Joonas’ parents were equally supportive because Joonas wants to keep on racing too. During the winter training camp, we had a nanny who is a friend of us.
There is an international community here in Girona so when we have a real problem there is always help.”
Olavi is still in bed when we talk early evening but that down time is important to Lotta. When you think Lotta and Joonas have it all planned to the minute, you are wrong. They just take parenting as it comes with the help of their support network. A day in the life of the Henttala’s means they often have to train separately, one in the morning and the other one later in the day.
“We wake up together and then I go out or Joonas does a morning ride. Then Olavi goes to bed again and when I return, he probably just had lunch. He is a really good sleeper which is so much easier. Then after lunch we go outside. I have never had to change my training schedule because he had a bad night or so. Our coach was and is helping too so we both can have good training in the time we have. Olavi could go to a kindergarten here but it would mean he brings home all the viruses around. He would be sick and we probably would be too.”
Lotta’s Specialized bike and Joonas’ team bike are about a meter above the ground. If they would be on the floor, Olavi would constantly turns the pedals. When he wakes up from his nap and wanders around the room, he picks up a bike pump and tries to pump the tires of his own stroller. He also has his own little Specialized push bike. It’s all play because aged 15 months he is not really aware of his parents’ special job.
“Olavi was there in Valencia for my first race with Joonas. He doesn’t really know what we do for our jobs of course but he sees things. When we put on our cycling gear and pump the tires, he wants to do that too. Kids always tends to copy their parents, even though he is just one. He also knows now that I come back after training so there is no drama when I leave. When he gets older, we can tell him he was at races and had all these adventures but now he is not aware of everything that happens.”
Looking back at the past two years, Lotta smiles and is confident this was the best choice. Everything just came naturally. Nothing was planned or forced. There was no pressure. The biggest setback has been the persistent illness throughout the Spring season but that was really all that went ‘wrong.’
“I haven’t had any regrets about having Olavi and then returning to racing. I maybe have been away from him ten days for racing in total so far plus the hours I trained. When I would have worked as a physiotherapist, the job I studied for, I would have probably seen him less.”
The coming months will be a logistical puzzle again for the family when they return to Finland for the national championships. Joonas travels with one dog and Lotta’s mother with another dog and Olavi while Lotta races in the Pyrenees. Stage racing takes some more planning but they all take it how it comes.
“We haven’t planned this summer’s stage races yet but I know there will always be a solution with our parents, family and friends. They help me be a pro cyclist next to being a mother. When I am at a race I want to and can focus on racing because I know he is in good hands. I would of course miss him a lot but he knows how to Facetime because we do it all the time with the family in Finland. He is already a Facetime professional. He is always laughing and making faces so that will be fun during the longer races this summer,” Lotta concludes.