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Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig: Instinct will win Tour of Flanders

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope)
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) (Image credit: Getty Images)

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) will tear up the script and race on instinct in an attempt to secure her first Women's WorldTour victory at the Tour of Flanders

The popular and charismatic Danish all-rounder says that she intends to race on feeling and believes that success can't be mapped out on the road to Oudenaarde.

"To be able to win, you need to know the course, your opponents and to have the race feeling, and this is not something you can plan. You can plan a lot of things; testing tyre pressure, knowing the wind direction, knowing everything. Somethings you can't plan and there is the instinct that you need to feel in the race," Uttrup Ludwig said in a roundtable interview with international media, including Cyclingnews, on Tuesday.

She arrived in Oudenaarde this week and will preview the Tour of Flanders course on Wednesday or Thursday. Flanders Classics hasn't released the specific route details to the public yet to prevent spectators from gathering at cobble sectors or climbs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Uttrup Ludwig said she has a route map, however, and will go out and test tyre pressure and check for wind speeds and directions but that ultimately the best places to attack will show themselves during the race.

"Of course, when you do the recon you might think of places that would be super good to attack and you have it imagined in your head and then in the race it's different," she said. 

"Sometimes there's a breakaway and you can't attack so, for me, it's not always good to have everything planned because you never know what is going to happen and that is the beauty of racing. The charm is that you need to be there [present] and react instantly, make the right decisions by yourself. I don't normally plan where to attack because it should come as an instinct during the race."

Uttrup Ludwig was third at the Tour of Flanders in 2019 behind winner Marta Bastianelli and runner-up Annemiek van Vleuten. She's been on the podium at races Flèche Wallonne, Trofeo Alfredo Binda, La Course and in stages at the Giro Rosa, but a victory in the top-tier of women's races has so far eluded her. This year she has placed fifth at Strade Bianche and third at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, in each race a part of the decisive finals.

The 25-year-old rider said that it's hard to predict a victory but that she's ready to contest Tour of Flanders.

"I need to have good legs, a bit of luck, and to try and attack – sounds easy – I'm feeling pretty good. Hopefully, I will have better legs for Sunday. I'm super motivated and this is one of my absolute favourite races. I'm freaking excited," Uttrup Ludwig said.

FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope will field a team to support Uttrup Ludwig that includes Marta Cavalli, who was in the top 10 at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Strade Bianche, and Emilia Fahlin, who was in the top 10 at Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Gent-Wevelgem. The team will also include Brodie Chapman, Eugénie Duval and Maëlle Grossetête.

"This is also something that will play in our favour to try and win the race. In the end, having multiple cards is always an advantage. It will be cool, and hopefully, we will have more cards in the final," Uttrup Ludwig said. "With the increasing level [of the peloton], everyone will be ready. When the level is so good there are more contenders and there are more tactics. It's also in the unexpected points [of the race] where riders can go for it."

Growing strength

The level of the women's peloton is the highest that it has ever been. SD Worx has won six races with six different riders this spring and they can also solidly rely on double world champion Anna van der Breggen. 

Trek-Segafredo has taken an all-or-nothing approach to racing, with Lizzie Deignan and Elisa Longo Borghini, which paid off at Trofeo Alfredo Binda. 

Marianne Vos' new women's team Jumbo-Visma leads the Continental teams to display top-tier strength at Women's WorldTour races. At Gent-Wevelgem, where Vos triumphed, there were five riders from Continental teams, including Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank, Valcar Travel & Service and Ceratizit-WNT, in the top 10.

Uttrup Ludwig attributes this new level of strength to the professional women's racing reforms. These include introducing the Women's WorldTour in 2016, a new two-tier teams structure, the introduction of minimum salaries for WorldTeams and the required live coverage of Women's WorldTour races.

"It shows that the broader level is getting bigger and bigger and that women can live off cycling because we have the minimum salary and all this is turning into a good cycle," said Uttrup Ludwig, who spent the first part of her cycling career working a second job in a supermarket.

"Back in the day, I was standing up working at a supermarket and that's not super good recovery. [Women] can now focus 100 per cent on cycling and it shows that the level is super good and increasing every year. When the level increases all the teams play a bigger role in the races.

"It's getting harder and harder to win a race now. It will get better year by year. You need to bring your A-game if you want to be in the mix for the win."

WEVELGEM BELGIUM MARCH 28 Sprint Arrival Marianne Vos of Netherlands and Team Jumbo Visma Lisa Brennauer of Germany and Ceratizit WNT Pro Cycling Team Lotte Kopecky of Belgium and Team Liv Racing Elisa Balsamo of Italy and Team Valcar Travel Service Marta Bastianelli of Italy and Team Ale Btc Ljubljana Emilia Fahlin of Sweden and Team FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope during the 10th GentWevelgem In Flanders Fields 2021 Womens Elite a 1417km race from Ypres to Wevelgem GWE21 GWEWomen FlandersClassic UCIWWT on March 28 2021 in Wevelgem Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

The battle for position on the run into Gent-Wevelgem (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Uttrup Ludwig, who is still seeking her first victory on the Women's WorldTour, intends to bring her A-game to the Tour of Flanders, even if it might be harder to win this year than ever before.

"I've always thought of the Tour of Flanders as an unofficial World Championships with the same amount of spectators and the atmosphere brings so much joy to this race," she said, noting that Tour of Flanders was her favourite race of the season, but a near-tie with Flèche Wallonne.

"It feels like a national holiday, party tents on course and everyone is out to enjoy cycling, having a good time. The atmosphere is so crazy good, like a party. It has so many iconic climbs and it's such a long and hard race with so much history."

One thing is for certain, Uttrup Ludwig is not interested in standing on the second or the third steps on the podium at the Tour of Flanders. It will be first place or nothing in a race where she plans to give it her all.

"It's cool to get a WorldTour podium but I would rather go for the win at the Tour of Flanders," she said. 

"I would rather risk everything and get 20th – either you take a risk and win big, or you lose big."

Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.