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'It's changed my life': Caudrelier skippers Chinese yacht Dongfeng to Volvo win

THE HAGUE (AFP) - 

Frenchman Charles Caudrelier skippered Chinese yacht Dongfeng to a thrilling victory in the Volvo Ocean Race on Sunday after the closest finish in the race's 45-year history.

Caudrelier's team held their nerve over the final 10 miles to win a leg for the first time in the world's most extreme around-the-world sailing race that has seen seven yachts battle it out over eight months across 83,000km of seas (45,000 nautical miles).

"I can't believe it," said Caudrelier, 44, dubbing his multinational crew a "dream team".

"We had so much frustration in the last nine months, we never won a leg. But we trusted our navigation and we had a clear idea before the start of where we wanted to pass.

"What an amazing finish!" he said alongside crew members Pascal Bidegorry, Kevin Escoffier and Marie Riou of France, New Zealanders Stu Bannatyne and Daryl Wislang, China's Chen Jinhao, Dutchwoman Carolijn Brouwer and Briton Jack Boutell.

Dongfeng race team navigator Bidegorry correctly predicted that "after more than 45,000 miles of racing, this is going to come down to the last 45 miles".

And so it proved to be, with Dongfeng starting the final leg -- a 970-mile sprint from Gothenburg, Sweden -- level with Mapfre and Team Brunel.

Each of the three teams led at some point during the leg, but it was Dongfeng which finally came into port first after a bold call on Saturday to take a coastal route.

The victory meant the Chinese-flagged yacht closed the race on 73 points, three ahead of Spanish yacht Mapfre, with Team Brunel of the Netherlands rounding out the podium just a further point adrift.

"With each Volvo race, you tell yourself 'I am stopping' but this is the only team race where there is the best level, where you are going into the most difficult seas, when you have to navigate the most difficult conditions," added Caudrelier.

"It's the Olympic Games of the big races."

Due to new rules which called for women to be added to the crews, Marie Riou and Carolijn Brouwer have therefore become the first women to win the Volvo.

"This race has changed my life," added the winning skipper, the third French captain to have won the race.

"I have discovered human relationships that you cannot escape. You face problems, there are clashes, tensions, people have had enough.

"It has transformed me but also my relationship with my children, my family."

The gruelling race was marred, however, when British sailor John Fisher was lost overboard in gale force conditions while his Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag team was racing through the Southern Ocean in March.

And a Chinese fisherman was killed in January after a collision between his boat and the Vestas 11th Hour Racing yacht on the fourth leg.

© 2018 AFP