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Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig rides high on career security and stoke in 2020

Danish rider's prolific season a result of patience, motivation, and stoke as she settles in at the top of WorldTour peloton.

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig’s favorite memory from the Giro Rosa happened well off the podium and far from any of the climbs that she crushed during the race. It was from a small pizza place in Motta Montecorvino, on the evening of the final stage of the Italian stage race. Her FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope teammate Evita Muzik had won the stage, and the team was celebrating around food and wine.

“For me, it was a bit bittersweet because I got fourth, but it was such a nice evening,” Uttrup Ludwig told VeloNews. “It was a memorable day for many reasons. Evita worked so hard and she’s such a talented young girl. Brodie was also so freaking strong. In the breakaway together, the way that they executed it — Brodie riding full gas and Evita [was] going and believing in it and winning.”

“The whole Giro we’d been saying when we get to the end we’ll have pizza. And we did, and it was the best pizza of my life, seriously, with nice local wine. It was just so nice, and we ended on such a good note.”

Although missing the podium at the Giro Rosa by two seconds could have left her frustrated and remorseful, the Danish rider had plenty of positives to focus on instead: her overall mountains classification victory, her teammate’s stage win, and, the fact that the Giro Rosa happened at all.

In fact, if there’s one thing that Uttrup Ludwig knows about herself, it’s how being happy makes her a better rider.

Happy at home

While riders across the globe had to make major modifications to their lives, both on and off the bike, during the coronavirus shutdown, Uttrup Ludwig says she didn’t do anything out of the ordinary in terms of training. She left Girona to return home to Denmark early in the spring where she trained almost exactly as she would have had there not been a pandemic.

What she did notice, however, was how much easier it was to make gains without the mental hardship of being stuck away from friends and family during such a stressful time.

“In general, I just know how much it means for me as a rider to be happy,” Uttrup Ludwig said. “For me, it made me happy to be in Denmark and surrounded by family and friends. We couldn’t go to restaurants, but we could go for walks and be outside. That made it easier to go through this.”

In addition to being home with friends and family, Uttrup Ludwig said another very important piece factored into her ability to train without any emotional interference. During the racing shutdown, neither she nor her teammates had to deal with any disruption to their salaries or benefits. Because FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope is backed by the state lottery, it has funding that ensured that the riders wouldn’t have to take pay cuts.

“I think that that has been also a major part [of] why I haven’t been worried during the COVID time,” Uttrup Ludwig said. “Talking to some of my other competitors where their team has been suffering, they have been super worried about having a job, being able to pay the bills. That’s also why I haven’t been worried and have been able to focus my energy on training and being good when the season started, and I think that has been quite important.”

Good when the season started

For those who didn’t know Uttrup Ludwig before this year, when she has most often been at the head of the peloton duking it out alongside legends like Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen, it bears going back and watching the highlights (and post-race interviews) from Flanders last year. Last April in Belgium, Uttrup Ludwig was also at the front, battling with van Vleuten and eventual winner Marta Bastianelli.

After she finished third in the sprint into Oudenaarde, Uttrup Ludwig was characteristically stoked, and minutes later she gave her now-iconic “Let’s. Put. The. Hammer. Down!” interview.

Yet speaking about her successes this year — a win at Giro dell’Emilia, 4th at the Giro Rosa, 8th at worlds, and 2nd at Fleche Wallone — Uttrup Ludwig is more tempered.

“I feel that every year I am improving and I feel that I still have some things to learn, but I feel that I’m just slowly progressing year by year,” she said. “I feel like I’ve taken another step from last year. I hope that I can take even another big step, go for another big win, that’s the goal.”

Perhaps it is the combination of stoked-ness, patience, and drive that has landed Uttrup Ludwig in striking distance of so many WorldTour victories.

With only two major races left on the calendar and the coronavirus pandemic still very much a thing, Uttrup Ludwig said she’s seeing a lot of tired minds and bodies in the peloton. However, the off-season hasn’t even entered her mind yet. In a year where everyone took a ‘ride each race like it’s the last’ attitude, the 25-year old rider hasn’t yet accepted that soon enough, the last one will come. Until then, there’s Flanders to contend with.

“It’s one of my favorite races on the calendar,” she said. “I’m gonna go out there and have fun, I’m sure.”

But we know what that really means: on Sunday, Uttrup Ludwig is going to put the hammer down.