Thursday 15 August 2019

52 Cycling Voices - 24: Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig

Cecile Uttrup Ludwig is one of the most exciting racers to watch in the women's peloton. The 23-year old is one of the leading riders in her Bigla team. Every year we have seen her raise her profile with stronger and stronger results - notably with a third place at the Tour of Flanders this year, third place at La Course by Le Tour de France, a win at the GP Plumelec-Morbihan, and recently the Queen of the Mountains prize at the Tour of Scotland.

The dynamic Dane is also known for her highly animated post-race interviews - notably when she was very emotional at the end of La Course last year, and when I interviewed her at the Tour of Flanders this year she was absolutely buzzing.

I recently interviewed Cecile while she was at the top of a mountain training for the Women's Tour of Italy (Giro Rosa) and I got an insight into what drives the passionate, dynamic and warm-hearted Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig.

Cecile Uttrup Ludwig, aged 23

From: Copenhagen, Denmark

Lives: Girona, Spain

Occupation: Professional cycle racer

Cecilie won the Queen of the Mountains competition at the Women's Tour of Scotland  (Image:

I started cycling, after having tried every sport you can think of. When I finished high school, I focused 100% on cycling and worked in a supermarket to earn money. 

At that time I didn’t even know if I would get a pro contract and it was just like, I’m gonna do anything I can to get a pro contract. 

In the beginning people had their thoughts about it and not continuing my education. They said, "Hmm, what are you actually doing? You must be studying? You cycle some of the time, but what do you do with your spare time?"

I kept on standing my ground, and I kept on saying this is what I want and I love it so much, and I want to try and become one of the world’s best cyclists. I thought if I worked hard there would be a possibility of me getting a pro contract on a team.

I thought maybe I’ll try to give it a couple of years and then see. And then, after one year working in the supermarket, I got the contract with Bigla and since then I have progressed.

I think it took quite a while before some people accepted what I was doing.  It’s still fun to see my school friends now, and that I chose to do something completely different. 

The reactions that I get now, from friends and family is "Wow – you are pursuing your dream. It must be nice to live from your hobby" and they are really following so closely in every race that I do. 

When I do something, I do it all in. No matter if it’s a training ride, going out with friends, having deserts or a glass of wine, I enjoy it and do it all in. 

In the mixed zone after the Tour of Flanders
I am an all or nothing person. If I think about how I was at school, every assignment that I was given… if they said to take approximately five hours to write an assignment I would spend 10 hours writing it. I think I’m always a perfectionist. 

I was also cycling while studying, so my day would involve waking up at 6am, getting ready for 7 and from 8 until 4pm I would be in school. Then I would rush home and go out on my bike for 2 or 3 hours, then I would start doing assignments and preparing for the next day. I didn’t care if I even went to bed at 1am. 

As a bike racer I feel that I am travelling between two worlds. In one way I am the pro cyclist, riding the Tour of Flanders, there are so many spectators, so many rows of people screaming, it smells like fries, like beer, and there are cow bells….it’s just a crazy atmosphere and you are on your max and taking all this atmosphere in. 

Then I reach the finish line, I have interviews, I go on the podium, then into the VIP tent and there’s lunch, champagne….the interviews.. and then just two hours after this crazy experience you are sitting in the airplane and no one knows you

And the next day I sit at home and I am the normal Cecilie where I need to do the laundry, cook, go shopping, and just lead a normal everyday life. 

It is a bit weird to jump between these two very very different worlds but I also have a good group around me that I can always talk to. I think that also helps me a lot, and I have a very very supportive family. 

My family have always supported me since I started cycling. If I had to go to club races they would always wake up in the morning and my mum would do a box of food for before the race and after the race, and even though we had to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning the whole family would get up. 

My dad would take me to the race in the car and even though we had to drive three hours to a little club race of 1hr 15 minutes we would do that. I have a super close relationship with my family, and they mean a lot to me and that is also something that I feel now, especially now that I have moved to Girona.

Flying back to Denmark to see my family for the first time in six months was crazy emotional. When I was driving to my parents' place, just to see the highways in Denmark – I know it sounds crazy - I was like aww, this is home! How beautiful is Denmark, and oh my God, I’ve missed these roads.

My family lives close to Copenhagen. It is just such a nice city and the people are so friendly.
In 2021 there is going to be the Battle of the North stage race, and I am so excited about it because we are going to start in Denmark, and it is just something special to start in your home country and have home crowds. I can have my family out watching so it’s going to be super super special. 

Being a professional cyclist you sacrifice a lot. It's a 24/7 job. You have to eat well, sleep well, train... you do a lot to prepare as well as you can.... it’s part of the athlete job. You are always in search of how you can optimise everything that you can optimise. 

Cycling is super-vulnerable. If we get an injury then that's a problem. We earn our money from cycling, and we need our bodies to get a contract! 

You see Chris Froome and then he crashes in training before the time trial and he’s out for six months. Maybe in a bike race a girl crashes in front of me and then everything I’ve prepared for months and months and months is up in a split second.

At the Women’s Tour there was quite a big crash where the race leader, Marianne went out of the race. Cycle racing can be tough.

I think the moment you think about crashing and get scared while in a race, that is the moment where you often crash because you get super tight in your body and you are braking too much in the corner, and you are super afraid. If I am too focused on not crashing then that’s when I crash! 

So, even though it can be difficult you need to put your brain somewhere else, because cycling is super-dangerous. We do descents from a mountain at 80kph (50mph), I mean yeah, if I crashed at this moment holy moly I would get hurt, but I cannot think about that because if I brake at the wrong moment I find myself going backwards. 

Also when doing sprint finishes during the fight for positioning you need to put your brain somewhere else, and sometimes take risks and say, "Can I fit here?" Okay, I’m gonna try.

There are so many aspects to being a team leader. I want to be as good a leader as I can be, and it was good for me in the first years at Bigla to watch how Ashleigh [Moolman-Pasio] and Lotta [Lepistö] were being team leaders.

If you’re a bad leader then maybe your team-mates will give 90% and they’ll drop. But if they really feel connected and there is a good atmosphere in the team they’ll give 110%. 

You need to be a unit, and that’s also not something that just comes. You need to have fun at the dinner table, not just in cycling races. We spend so much time together travelling, being together before the races or after the races, in the camper. So we have fun, but we can also be serious when it is important. 

When we are able to use radios like in WorldTour races it’s important to talk to each other and motivate each other. 

It’s key to do that and communicate. Communication is one of the most important parts of cycling. When you're sitting in the bunch, and the girls are at the front covering attacks and you are saying "get this one, attack on the left and Lizzy can you go" or if Lizzy or Leah or anyone else has been in the breakaway you say "F***ing hell well done girls, f***ing amazing, you’re superwomen, keep on f***ing going, it’s unbelievable come on!" 

It’s the intensity of a race, and they also feel it. You need to be there, and in it. Riders need to feel that what they're doing is important. If they feel it then you have a weapon, and it also feels like a fun job. It becomes fun to try to be in the right breakaway or try to be at the front, or try to lead out. 

More and more people are watching women's cycle racing. After La Course last year I got a lot of responses from people around the world. Now that women's races are televised people can see how fun it is and how exciting women's cycling is. It is on the up. 

I don't want it to become a big battle or a discussion where we say let's divide or compare men and women. It's just that when I see that there is an unfairness in the way they do the course or in transmitting the race, I think that to move away from the status quo and to improve the sport we need to speak about it.  

I like Girona, where I live. There are lots of cyclists, and it’s cool. If you want to train with someone in Girona there’s always company! I live in the old part of the city which is super nice. There are also these small, narrow streets, where Spanish people go out a lot in the evening and have tapas and a glass of wine. The atmosphere is really nice.  

There were two career roads I had to chose from - to go the more normal or more secure way - getting an education and doing a conventional job - or going the opposite way and following my dreams even though it’s going to be risky and I don’t know if I can live off it. 

It was a super risky way, but it was never me to take the safe option! I see too many people waking up every day and saying "Oh my god, do I really need to go to this work, I hate this job." I say, do something that you love. Life is too short to get up every day to do something you don't like

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