Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
“High-energy”. That’s a description that fits Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig. Her post-race interviews have become legendary, her Twitter GIFs are a staple on race days, and her enthusiasm is contagious.
“If I had the receipe to happiness I would get rich!” she laughs. “No, of course I have bad days. Like everyone I have bad days. I also gave interviews that were less high-energy but people seem to forget those and remember the ones I am pumped with adrenaline after a race, when I am buzzing because all the training, all the preparation worked!”
Unlike many Danish pros, Cecilie (or Cille to her friends) prefers her double name. In Denmark you carry the name of your mother and father and she wants to honour them both. Uttrup Ludwig is now 25 years young and comes from an athletic family of four. Though sports were part of the family she is the first one to end up in bike racing.
“I did so many sports,” she tells me the day after Strade Bianche where she finished fifth. “I started swimming but I literally got ill after every swim. The doctors just couldn’t find out what was wrong so I switched to athletics. It’s a sport I love so much but we had a coach at our club who was, how do you say it in a friendly way, not very motivating. I wanted to get better, win! I need the encouragement, the motivation. I found that at a cycling club and with my coach Rene Lynge. He was so positive and funny. We are still friends to this date. I sometimes call him my bonus dad.”
Uttrup Ludwig had enough talent and a solid athletic basis from other sports that she got selected to represent Denmark at the 2012 World Championships. She was only a junior and had never ridden outside of Denmark. That opportunity was a game-changer. She won a silver medal in the time trial, behind Elinor Barker, and came in eighth in the road race. Out of the top 10 only she and Sheyla Gutiérrez (now Team Movistar) still ride at the highest level.
“I remember everything of that trip to Valkenburg, the hotel, the races,” she recalls. “I never raced against riders other than those in Denmark. I had no idea what my level was so winning that silver medal was so cool. I was over the moon. I thought to myself: ‘maybe I can focus on this, become a pro and earn a living.’ People would say it would never work because there were only 10 [female] riders earning money with cycling. It almost felt like they were discouraging me.”
Discouraging Uttrup Ludwig is mission impossible. She became more determined to become one of those 10 riders.
“If you tell me I can’t be a pro, I will show you,” she says. “I am now one of those 10 riders and thankfully we have many more than 10 riders now [earning a living]. The sport has come a long way.”
Now a three-time Danish time trial champion, Uttrup Ludwig started with Rytger in 2014, a team that now focuses on junior women. She raced with Team BMS Birn in 2016 before being picked up by Cervélo-Bigla in 2017. In 2020 she joined the French WorldTour team FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope, and feels right at home.
“I had been in contact with Stephen Delcourt before,” she says about the team’s manager. “When I wanted to leave Bigla there were many teams enquiring but Stephen and I had a good chat. This team feels like the right team to develop [with]. It felt right. He really believed in me. I am quite an emotional person, not very reserved, and the French and Italian mentality fits me well.”
At just 25, Uttrup Ludwig is one of the more experienced riders on the WorldTour team. She likes the mentoring role she has taken on.
“It’s not that I am a natural-born leader but I don’t break under stress,” she says. “I am happy to lead the team and help the younger riders with my small knowledge, not only with racing their bikes but with everything around it. What it means to be an athlete.”
The French team has a mix of experience with former Swedish champion Emilia Fahlin and Australian Lauren Kitchen but also young and upcoming riders like Giro Rosa stage winner Evita Muzic, Marta Cavalli, Victoire Guilman and Jade Wiel.
“Evita is such a strong rider and she will be a star,” Uttrup Ludwig says. “Jade became French champion when she was just 19. I was stunned to see how much [media] attention there was around her. Succeeding at a young age is not always a good thing. Jade handles it well though but it can be very hard for young riders.”
Uttrup Ludwig had a more gradual slope in her development. She feels like she is still developing and reacts with that characteristic laugh when asked what she perceives to be her breakthrough.
“Every year people say this or that year will be my breakthrough,” she says. “I don’t think I had my breakthrough yet. I want to win a WorldTour race. A podium is nice but I want to win!”
Uttrup Ludwig already has an impressive palmares. She has seven victories, three national titles, wins at the GP Plumelec in 2019 and the Giro dell’Emilia in 2020, plus the overall classification in smaller stage races in the Czech Republic and Spain.
She’s been on the podium in the Tour of Flanders and the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and netted top-10 places in the Ardennes Classics. In 2020 she was two seconds away from third place overall at the Giro Rosa. She is talented on all sorts of terrain: cobbles, short climbs and stage racing. She is a strong time-triallist too. Uttrup Ludwig has many options with the talent she has but, when asked to choose, she nominates two favourite races.
“Tour of Flanders and Strade Bianche are my dream races to win,” she explains. “What do I need for that little bit extra to get from a podium place to a win? Maybe luck? I don’t know. Cycling has become more and more of a team sport. The strength in numbers that SD Worx and Trek-Segafredo have is hard to match. We are getting there too [with FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope]. I was happy to have Marta [Cavalli] with me in the final in Strade Bianche.
“There must be a day when everything works,” she concludes. “I like to wear my positive hat in life.”