There can be few more contrasting emotions than those shown by Cecile Uttrup Ludwig in the last two days.
In Provins after stage two of the Tour de France she shuffled dejectedly, eyes puffy from recent tears into a team car after a disastrous day for her FDJ-SUEZ-Futuroscope team which saw four of them, including the Dane crash.
Twenty-four hours later, after a stunning, intelligent and patient victory in Epernay she stood on the podium sharing her emotions with her watching teammates. After doping control she strode into the press room for her press conference, her Danish champion’s jersey as bright as her eyes, her stage winner’s medal still around her neck.
“I think I’ll sleep with this,” she said clutching the medal before the questions began.
Tuesday was a day of retribution for both Uttrup Ludwig and her team. After finally bagging a WorldTour win last year 2022 has not been kind, COVID, among other things scuppering any hopes of spring success.
While Cavalli was flying high at the Giro Donne earlier in the month, eventually finishing second, Uttrup Ludwig occasionally cut a forlorn figure, seeming to want more than she was able to give, despite knowing the Tour was her target and chance to shine
But in front of journalists in a gym sculpted in the hillside near the finish line she was back to her exuberant, emotional best.
“I felt like I was in quite a good spot being on Marianne’s wheel like under the flamme rouge. And then I kind of lost the position a bit, and I was like, sh*t, oh, no, no, no! And Kasia [Niewiadoma - Canyon-SRAM] was already attacking in the bottom,” Uttrup Ludwig told her completely engrossed audience.
“And I just kept on fighting, I can come back, I think I can come back, at least the podium come on, at least the podium! And then it's actually looking pretty good.
“It's pretty amazing because yesterday was so sh*t and you had to keep fighting with the team to have the motivation high. That is something I will remember for the rest of my life, I think.
“I also just said it to myself, ‘I'm a stage winner in the Tour de France. You know, I think that's something I would like, it would look good on my resumé.”
The victory is without doubt the best of the 26 year-old’s career, and while she is clearly talented, she has occasionally been guilty of impatience, being far too ready to make the first move and subsequently losing out. Tuesday’s performance showed none of that, she waited for her moment then passed both Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) and Niewiadoma in the closing metres.
However, the final was not plain sailing after she was dropped on the final classified climb, the Côte de Mutigny, just over 15km from the line.
“I said ‘let’s take this climb easy ladies’ but they were attacking so I got dropped, but then I was with Marianne [Vos] and we were just truing because we still believed then Vollering came back and we could see the gap coming down.”
With any win there are celebrations, but the nature, circumstances and location of Uttrup Ludwig’s mean Champagne is definitely on the menu for FDJ-SUEZ-Futuroscope, however, there are stiffer challenges to come.
Uttrup Ludwig will begin stage four 10th overall, 1-48 behind leader Vos and will have to switch focus to the longer climbs to come at the weekend.
“I have GC ambitions, so I kind of need to be able to climb a little bit, but I'm still kind of a punchy rider, but I hope that I'm also able to do the long climbs , but I guess we'll have to see if it’s good enough at the weekend.”
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Owen Rogers is an experienced journalist, covering professional cycling and specialising in women's road racing. He has followed races such as the Women's Tour and Giro d'Italia Donne, live-tweeting from Women's WorldTour events as well as providing race reports, interviews, analysis and news stories. He has also worked for race teams, to provide post race reports and communications.
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