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Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig: I can look back with a smile but I still want more

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Image credit: Getty Images)

The 2020 season was a year of two halves for Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig in more ways than one. The Danish rider saw the first seven months of the campaign wiped out due to race cancellations and the COVID-19 pandemic, while her scheduled re-start in July led to an all-important first win in FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope colours and a string of consistently impressive performances. However, the 25-year-old closed the year still searching for her debut WorldTour win but as she re-sets and trains this winter the popular all-rounder has all the motivation she needs to end that hunt in 2021.

"I guess the season went well. I changed teams, and with Covid, it’s been a bit of a strange year and very compact, but when I look back at the year I can smile,” she told Cyclingnews from her first team training camp of the winter at FDJ’s service course in France.

“There’s also part of me that wants to do better and I think that’s the very competitive side to me. That’s why I’m not instantly saying that it’s been a super great year because one of my major goals was to have a WorldTour victory and that didn’t happen. That’s on the big to-do list for next year.”

Uttrup Ludwig racked up top 10s in almost half of her 21 race days in 2020, with a solo win in the Giro dell'Emilia Internazionale Donne Elite followed by the mountains classification in the Giro Rosa, where she also finished fourth overall despite a disappointing showing from her team in the opening TTT. The Danish pro also finished second in La Fleche Wallonne behind the unstoppable Anne van der Breggen but merely having races on the agenda after a year that saw the race calendar decimated by cancellations counted as a major result for both Uttrup Ludwig and her competitors in general. 

During the European lockdown, the FDJ leader remained in Denmark and was free to train on the roads but she also found herself inundated with a steady fleet of media requests as journalists struggled to fill pages with race-related copy.

“I guess it was the same for everyone but we were all freaking happy just to have a calendar and racing. It was hard to come back but for me keeping motivation wasn’t that difficult. I was in Denmark and able to train outdoors. I didn’t stay in Spain so during lockdown I didn’t get bored by just being on a home trainer,” she said.

“But I didn’t have new hobbies but during that time cycling journalists had no racing to write about so I felt like I had a lot more media requests because people were like, ‘what the fuck. We can’t write about races.’ I felt like I was busy on and off the bike and I was training for lots of hours. The motivation was still high and I was always positive that we’d have a season.”

Having moved to FDJ at the start of the season, Uttrup Ludwig effectively became the leader of the women’s WorldTour team. She had proven herself over several years at Bigla with results that included a memorable third place in the 2019 Tour of Flanders but winning high-profile races was always going to be the gauge by which her move to France was judged upon. 

In many ways, every rider in 2020 deserves a pass because of the circumstances they competed in but Uttrup Ludwig wants no such sympathy. Her win in Italy was another timely reminder of her class on the bike and the progression she still managed to make despite not racing until July.

“Winning and putting your hands in the air is one of the best feelings,” she said.

“That was important for the team and there was a feeling of ‘fuck, we did it’. I still felt new in the team but it was cool, and a good start to my time on the team. Personally, it was important for me because some thought that I was a talent but I wanted to prove that I was more than that.” 

The result in the Giro Rosa demonstrated Uttrup Ludwig’s consistency – she rose to fourth on stage 2 and never dropped from that position – but the time lost in the opening stage was too much for her to turn around. Taking away the time conceded in the opening day of racing would have bumped her into second overall, but she knows that more work is needed from her and the team in a collective sense if some of the placings she acquired in 2020 are to be turned into podiums or wins.

“The team time trial is one of the things that we want to keep working on and I think that the team has potential. It’s something to work on in the future and it’s exciting. Coming fourth in the Giro is one of the worst results, in a way, because you’re the first rider left with nothing, in a way but I know that it was still one of my best results in the race. It still didn’t feel that satisfying, if that makes sense, and that makes me even more motivated for next year.”

Race plans have yet to be formally announced but Uttrup Ludwig will likely use Valenciana as her debut event in 2020. The Olympic Games are a huge target, along with the Spring Classics, but a return to the Giro could depend on whether the race dates are changed. The 10-day race is no longer a WorldTour event after the organisers failed to deliver on a number of promises around television exposure and organizational issues but for now, Uttrup Ludwig is using the winter to train and build on the bonds she made with her teammates in such a turbulent season. 

“At the moment, I’m just training and I know that at this point it’s about building a good foundation and having that base. When I get closer to the season, that’s when I’ll do more intensity work and sharpen things up, but for now I’m just laying a good base and I hope that will be enough to take me there," Uttrup Ludwig said. "It feels like I’m almost there, and almost there, and then I don’t make it, so it would be a big relief to take that first WorldTour victory. That’s a big goal for me.

“For my calendar, nothing is set in stone but I have a pretty good idea of the races that I’m doing. We’re still a bit uncertain as to what races will happen and what the situation with COVID will be like but I guess no one knows. If one race is cancelled we don’t know what that will do to the calendar, but the Olympics are next year and representing Denmark there is one of the big goals. I do love the Classics and they’re very important to me.”