'Plan B was also good': Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig and FDJ-Suez bounce back at Women's Tour Down Under

Grace Brown might have had a bad day but it didn't matter in the end, thanks to her teammate's punch

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig wins stage two of the 2024 Women's Tour Down Under
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's quite a luxury, when you think about it, to have two of the best riders on one team at the first race of the year. To have not just the defending champion of a race on your team, but the rider who was the seventh-best in the world last year, according to the UCI's rankings anyway.

FDJ-Suez did not come to this year's Women's Tour Down Under to win with Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig. In fact, before the race the Dane was talking down her appearance at this race, suggesting that she was here to help Grace Brown win, and to prepare for bigger goals down the line. 

Therefore, when Brown, the defending champion, faltered on stage two of the Australian race, it could have been all over for FDJ-Suez. However, the presence of Uttrup Ludwig, a Tour de France Femmes stage winner, meant that there was no need to panic.

As Nicolas Maire, FDJ-Suez's directeur sportif put it post-stage: "Plan B was also good."

It was good for him and the team, and puts Uttrup Ludwig in pole position ahead of Sunday's final stage up Willunga Hill. It was quite simple in the end, for the Dane, as she waited until 150m to go of the race's longest ever stage and sprinted to the win. Soraya Paladin (Canyon-SRAM) came in second and Sofia Bertizzolo (UAE Team ADQ) followed in third.

"We had a plan for some time. It didn't go exactly as we wanted," Maire explained. "We wanted to support Grace, she was the winner in the same place in 2019. However, with one lap to go, she told us that she didn't feel so good, so we switched our plan, as we had Cecilie, who is good on a finish like this. 

"Plan B was also good. It's a bit sad for Grace as we are in Australia for her, and we were up for her to defend the title, but we have Cecilie in a good position now, so it's nice as well."

"In the beginning, Grace felt good, which is why we went for the intermediate sprint, where she got third," Uttrup Ludwig said. "After that, she said she wasn't feeling good when we came into the circuit, so with one lap to go she told me to go for it. We changed the plan, and I was happy to execute it."

With the ochre leader's jersey on her shoulders, the 28-year-old will hope to win the race overall. All that's in her way is a final stage and the ominous presence of Willunga Hill, a first for the event.

"I don't know what she is able to do, she is able [to win] when she is at her top shape," Maire said. "So the Australian riders have an advantage, but she looks good, and we will fight for this."

The two favourites for tomorrow, and therefore the overall, are the Australians Sarah Gigante (AG Insurance-Soudal) and Amanda Spratt (Lidl-Trek), with the latter being a three-time winner of the Tour Down Under.

"I think those two are the two to follow, they will be super strong," Uttrup Ludwig said. "I think there will be a few surprises actually, and I think it will be a super hard race, especially with the wind. It will be hard before the climb.

"She has good legs at the moment, good enough to do a good sprint anyway," Maire added. "For Willunga, and to fight with Amanda [Spratt], we'll see."

It is a good omen for the Dane's season that she has won already, especially if she is not at her top level yet; a solid Classics campaign beckons, with Uttrup Ludwig seeking to better her regular podium finishes at the top races, from Strade Bianche to the Tour of Flanders.

On Sunday, in Denmark, the Australian-born Princess Mary will become the Queen Consort of Denmark. On Sunday, in Australia, Danish-born Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig might well be crowned queen at the Tour Down Under. It's just unlikely to be a procession.

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