Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig eyes Ardennes podiums and Tour de France Femmes result after strong start
If Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig’s fourth place at Strade Bianche was just a form finder, then the peloton might be in for a shock in next month’s Ardennes Classics.
The Danish national champion raced aggressively on Tuscany's gravel roads, before holding off world champion Annemiek van Vleuten as she crested the steeply pitched Via Santa Caterina.
It was a strong showing, her best ever at the race, but speaking to Cycling Weekly, Uttrup Ludwig explained that her main ambitions for 2023 are still to come. “My two biggest goals are the Ardennes and the Tour de France,” she said. “They’re the two highlights.”
Asked what it is she likes about the Ardennes Classics, which count the trio of Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the FDJ Suez rider said: “I don’t know, they just fit very well to my profile. I love the short and steep climbs because I'm a punchy rider. I just love the atmosphere, the people out cheering.
“They’re just such good races, especially Flèche. That’s on top of the list of just awesome finishes. They’re epic races.”
Last year, after coming sixth at the Tour of Flanders, Uttrup Ludwig was forced to sit out of all three events with Covid-19. “It was so sad,” she said, mimicking a crying noise. “I was very gutted to be home sick, but on the other hand, the team did so well. So that was at least some comfort in a very dark time.”
FDJ Suez’s success in the Ardennes last season came thanks to Marta Cavalli and Grace Brown. The former, who will be Uttrup Ludwig’s co-leader at the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift this July, claimed her first WorldTour victories at Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne, while the Australian placed second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
This year, Cavalli’s early season campaign has been thrown into doubt after it was revealed she is still recovering from a concussion suffered at last year’s Tour de France Femmes.
“We still have a super good roster,” outlined Uttrup Ludwig. “Obviously it’s always nice to have Marta there and have super strong cards in the final. On the other hand, I also think we have strong cards in Grace.”
As for herself, the Danish road champion said she feels no pressure to step up. She's aiming for podiums - "top results" - and believes the team's easy-going nature works to her advantage.
“The team have always been very, very nice to me and I’ve never felt pressure to perform," she said.
“Also, to be honest, I think I’m getting old,” the 27-year-old laughed. “I think, with age, I’m taking it more calm than maybe I was a few years ago. That comes with age and being more experienced. I’m pretty calm.”
Uttrup Ludwig's experience is likely to be key to unlocking her second season goal, the Tour de France Femmes. Last year, the Dane finished seventh in the general classification, taking an imposing stage win on day three, but hopes to improve on her overall result this time round.
"Annemiek last year showed that she was clearly the strongest," she said. "To try and beat her and to beat a team like, say, SD Worx, who also have strong cards, I think we need to use our force, our strong cards."
This July's edition is likely to be decided by two key stages: a summit finish atop the Col du Tourmalet and a final day time trial in Pau.
Asked about the Pyrenean climb, Uttrup Ludwig said: "I've never done it before. I still need to do a recon of that and the time trial, but I'm excited. I think it's going to be hard, but I'll be preparing."
Before that, though, she'll face the Ardennes. To date, the Dane’s best result across the trio has come at Flèche Wallonne, where she finished a close runner-up in 2020. The following year, she went on to take top tens at Amstel Gold and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Ardennes week opens this year with Amstel Gold on 16 April. The Tour de France Femmes will begin on 23 July in Clermont-Ferrand.