You may have seen, we’re currently running a Kickstarter for The Road Book 2019 – A 240 page coffee table book celebrating the 2019 women’s road cycling season. To give you an idea of what you can expect in the book, here’s one of the features that appeared in The Road Book 2018, written by Anne-Marije Rook.
La Course by Le Tour de France, the ever-changing event held during cycling’s biggest event, is a rare moment when mainstream sport media —already present for Le Tour — turn their cameras and attention to the women’s side of the sport.
There are but a few opportunities like this, when the whole cycling world is tuned in and the limelight is this bright, and so if you want to make an impression, La Course is the stage to do it. You don’t even have to win it.
And for second-year-pro Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, the 2018 La Course will be one that neither she nor the public will forget anytime soon.
The long-awaited breakthrough
For this fifth edition of La Course, the 112-rider peloton rolled through the countryside around Annecy and into the hills where four climbs, including the Col de la Colombière, awaited them.
Fiery attacks, dangerous breakaways and courageous solo moves: the race had it all and culminated in a neck-and-neck fight between all-out favourites Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten that had us scooting to edges of our seats and biting our nails.
Despite winning a gruelling 10-day Giro Rosa just two days earlier, Van Vleuten managed the pip her compatriot at the line, while the rest of the peloton trickled in behind them.
Media, road-side fans and viewers worldwide went nuts over this exciting showcasing and the emotions ran high with the racers also. Van Vleuten burst out in tears of disbelief, joy and pure exhaustion, while Van der Breggen quietly swallowed her bitter disappointment. A little way down the finishing chute, media started crowding around not the podium finishers, but rather, the day’s fourth-place finisher Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig. The 22-year-old Dane sat spread-eagled on the hot pavement, her chest heaving as she let her tears and sobs flow freely.
That day’s Mountains Jersey winner had made an impression all-right. The youngster had ignited the race on the Col de Romme when she attacked with still 33 kilometres left in the race, and rode away from a breakaway group on the penultimate climb. She crested the category one climb with a thirty-second gap over the rest of the pack, but race favourites Van der Breggen and Van Vleuten chased hard from behind, and Uttrup Ludwig was caught on the final climb, the Col de la Colombière. She managed to hold on for fourth place though, and her teammate Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio took third.
It had been the ‘best day of her life’ and Uttrup Ludwig was inconsolably happy as she addressed the media in a manner that was completely unfiltered, entirely too loud and undeniably endearing.
She was dumbfounded to have found her legs now, after 10 days of hard racing in Italy; accredited this long-awaited breakthrough performance to the removal of an infected wisdom tooth; and even politely called on the public to watch more women’s racing… please!
If her on-the-bike performance hadn’t left an impression (though it should), her viral post-race interview sure did.
Danish Dynamite without a spark
There were a lot of emotions behind Uttrup Ludwig’s tears that day. After winning the UCI Women’s WorldTour young rider jersey in 2017, her second season as a UCI pro was one anticipated by many. But her spring fell flat. Cervélo-Bigla’s “Danish Dynamite” was missing a spark. She suffered an infected wisdom tooth, which said had a significant impact on her overall fitness.
“I rode like shit all spring,” she said plainly as we caught up at the end of the season. “It is incredible how much impact such a little tooth can have on your performance.”
“I had it removed in June and suddenly I could feel like myself again. I had a sign, a hint [of my fitness returning] in the Giro when on the Zoncolan I had a top 10.”
Throughout the Giro Rosa Uttrup Ludwig had been impressively consistent. Women’s cycling’s toughest multi-day race was especially hilly this year and Ludwig was right there, climbing with the very best. She would round out the Giro with four top 10 finishes in 10 days.
“I felt like myself again, hanging with the best climbers in the world. It was a redemption because I knew what I could do, what I had trained for. It definitely gave me confidence going into La Course,” said Uttrup Ludwig.
And with that renewed confidence, Uttrup Ludwig lined up for La Course feeling better than she had all season, albeit tired for 10 days of hard racing in her legs. Still, she was eager to finally show off what she can do.
Teammate Lotta Lepistö started things off for the Cervélo-Bigla team when she rode herself into the most promising escape of the day. When that group was starting to get reeled in, however, it was Uttrup Ludwig’s turn. She attacked fiercely on the penultimate climb and earned herself a gap so big that for a second, she even believed she might end up soloing to a win. When she was caught however, her teammate Moolman-Pasio finished off their efforts by securing the final podium spot for the team.
“We wanted to put the bigger teams under pressure and I think we did that and it is so much more fun to race like that,” Uttrup Ludwig recalled. “It was a great team race.”
“Being out front on my own, in front of all those spectators, it was amazing,” Uttrup Ludwig raved. “Shit! This race was such a good showcasing for women’s cycling and I, we were part of animating the race.”
And the post-race interview? Well, that’ll happen when exhaustion, joy and relief all comes out at once.
“You know, I was super tired after 10 days of racing and only having had one rest day in between and that was spent traveling. I couldn’t really control the emotions. I guess they got a no-filter type interview,” she shrugged. “I was amazed at how many people saw it. I got a lot of response on that. And I did laugh a bit when I saw it afterward.”
Her climbing legs weren’t the only thing she found this season. Even before her La Course interview circled the internet, she’d started to flex her voice, taking to social media and her blog to express her displeasure with the state of women’s cycling, and specifically, the disparity in men’s and women’s race courses.
She openly critiqued the 2018 UCI Road World Championship race course, where the infamous “Hell climb,” featured in the men’s race, was left off the women’s course. Similar disparities happened in the 2017 Worlds time trial courses and are slated to happen at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where the iconic Mount Fuji will not be a part of the women’s event.
“My big question is the reasoning behind this,” she stated plainly in a Cycling Weekly article. “Is it because [they think] we are too weak or are we not capable of doing such hard climbs?”
“I have a huge passion for women’s cycling, and I think there are a lot of things that could be improved. I believe we have a long way to go still. I see that as something positive as well, but I try to write blogs and talk about it in media,” said Uttrup Ludwig.
“I don’t think I have such a big voice yet in cycling, I think that the ladies who do have a very big voice do have a lot of support and resources behind them and perhaps their voice is louder. But I’m saying it because it means a lot to me and I will continue to do so.”
While this spring didn’t go as planned for the young Dane, her first two neo-pro seasons were quite remarkable and the Cervélo Bigla team management has taken note. They extended her contract and promised her a leader’s role.
“This last two years I learned a lot from [Sports Director] Thomas Campana and the girls around me. I’m a sponge and I am just sucking up all the things I can to learn from. This season has given me confidence and the motivation to keep on working hard,” said Uttrup Ludwig, adding that she still has a lot of developing to do to get near the level of top climbers Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten.
“I am just getting started really,” she said. “I still have a lot of potential to develop more.”
“The next two years with Bigla will be a little different as I will be taking on a little bit more of a leader’s role. It comes with more responsibility and I’m a little frightened but mostly excited.”
Like most cyclists, Uttrup Ludwig has rainbow dreams but likes to focus on the more immediate, tangible targets for now.
First up will be to remedy her “shit spring” and she’s hoping to bring her A game to the Ardennes Week in particular. Then it’s on to the Giro and the national championships.
“There are always goals to ride around in the Danish national jersey,” said Uttrup Ludwig, already a three-time Danish time trial champion. “I’m very proud of my country so that must be very special to ride around with the Danish flag during the season.”
Just talking about the future ahead, Uttrup Ludwig oozes excitement.
“I know the season hasn’t even fully ended yet and it may sound crazy but I am already looking forward to next year. Can’t kill the power of passion!”
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