Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
The written word doesn’t really do justice to a Ceclie Uttrup Ludwig interview. The effervescent Dane doesn’t so much answer questions as use those questions as a platform from which to entertain. To hold court.
She laughs frequently, she cries, she punctuates important moments with a “phoar” or other sound effect, she gesticulates emphatically. She is, quite simply, the most animated rider in professional cycling.
And in the aftermath of stage 3 of the inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Suez Futuroscope) had plenty to be animated about. She’d just taken the biggest victory of her career, and with it, delivered a remarkable reversal of fortune for her team.
Monday’s stage 2 was nothing short of a disaster for FDJ. The squad’s big GC hope, Marta Cavalli, was forced from the race after a horrific crash. Uttrup Ludwig, also targetting GC, crashed as well and lost most of two minutes. In fact, of the team’s six riders, four hit the ground at least once.
“Yesterday was just such a gloomy and sad and shit day and we were all just ‘Ugh, how do we fight back?’” Uttrup Ludwig said after winning stage 3. “I think what was pretty special on this team [was] that we were like, ‘OK, well, we’re going to keep fighting because the Tour’s not over yet … We’re not quitters, you know? And we’re going to show them. And I think we did that today.”
On the steep climb to the stage finish in Épernay, the 26-year-old surged clear of the likes of overall leader Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) and Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (SD Worx) to take what was an emotional victory.
“The girls [were] standing there in front when I was on the podium – I was just crying,” she said. “Crying, crying, crying. And they were crying with me. It was special. And we’re going to celebrate tonight, I promise.”
It wasn’t just the turnaround from yesterday’s misfortune that made Uttrup Ludwig’s win special. It was the fact she had to fight so hard to achieve it.
On the Côte de Mutigny with around 16 km to go, Uttrup Ludwig slipped off the back of the leading group when Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (SD Worx) came to the front and increased the tempo. Uttrup Ludwig fought her way back to the front once, but was dropped again when the pace increased on the uphill dash for bonus seconds on the Mont Bernon with less than 4 km to race.
Again she had to fight back.
“I did it for the team,” she said. “I did it for the team because they were working so hard yesterday and dropped back when I crashed. And they kept believing in me today and they’re like ‘It’s your day, Cille. It’s your day.”
If two chases back to the front weren’t enough, Uttrup Ludwig then found herself out of position coming into the final climb.
“I felt like I was in quite a good spot, being on Marianne’s wheel under La Flamme Rouge,” she said, speaking of race leader Vos. “And then we turned right and left and then I kind of lost the position a bit and I was like ‘Shit! I mean, oh, no, no, no.’ And Kasia [Niewiadoma] was already attacking in the bottom. But I just kept on fighting. And I was like, ‘I can come back! I think I can come back. At least a podium!’ And then I was like, ‘Oh, it’s actually looking pretty good.’ And then, yeah, I just went for it.”
Uttrup Ludwig has a dozen professional wins to her name, but none nearly as big as this. That’s a fact not lost on the effusive Dane.
“It’s a dream coming true,” she said of her second career WorldTour win. “I also just said it to myself before, I was like, ‘I’m a stage winner in the Tour de France.’ I think that’s something that would be looking good on my résumé, you know?”
While her GC ambitions took on a hit on that disastrous stage 2, Uttrup Ludwig hasn’t completed abandoned her goal of a strong overall finish.
“The Tour is not over yet,” she said. “And we have a pretty hard gravel stage tomorrow and two mountain stages. You know, a lot of things can happen.”
Her sports director Cédric Barre agrees.
“The gap is important after the stage of yesterday, but step by step we can take time,” he said. “The GC is not finished. [To] win it will be difficult, but for the podium, sure, it’s possible. So day after day we can win a lot of time.”
Whether Uttrup Ludwig is up there on GC by race’s end or not, it almost doesn’t matter. Today’s stage victory makes the inaugural Tour de France Femmes a triumph for her and for her team, particularly after the heartbreak of 24 hours earlier.
“We’re going to celebrate with [Cavalli] tonight because she’ll be in the hotel,” Uttrup Ludwig said. “So we’ll have a glass of champagne with her. And yeah, that’s going to be really special and good, because like” – a deep breath to ward off more tears – “at least we could do this for you, Marta.”