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After another season of improvement in 2022, charismatic Danish rider, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig has her eye firmly set on the Tour de France yellow jersey this summer.
Her FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope team has been strengthening over recent years and now has the depth to support the 26 year-old’s ambitions, as well as challenge for the win in most races.
Despite being near the top of the sport for some years, the 2021 season was a breakout for the Uttrup Ludwig. After consistently challenging in top tier races, last May she finally bagged her first WorldTour victory, winning an uphill stage of the Vuelta Burgos, a result which has left her wanting more.
“It was an important and meaningful victory for me,” Uttrup Ludwig told journalists during a press conference from a team camp in Spain. “It was also a big relief because I feel for a long time I’ve been up there where it’s fun in the final, but not really able to transfer that into victories. You want that same feeling again, so it’s definitely the ambition to win more this year.”
And the one race she wants to win most in her third season with the team? “The Tour de France,” she asserts firmly.
Plenty of others harbour that ambition, and Uttrup Ludwig is unlikely to roll out of Paris on July 24th as the main favourite, but she and the team cannot be counted out.
“I think my weakness has sometimes been in the longer climbs, so definitely that has been a focus during the winter period, but as we get closer to the Tour de France, it will definitely be my target to to do more,” she explains.
“I've got four or five other strong teammates with me at the Tour. It's a French team. We're in France. We're at the biggest cycling race in the cycling world. Of course, there’s going to be a lot of pressure, but I'm excited.”
Uttrup Ludwig is slated to start both the Tour and Giro Donne, with the 10 day Italian race finishing only 10 days before the start in Paris. In Italy she will share leadership duties with current French champion Evita Muzic and Marta Cavalli.
There will be four leaders in France, Uttrup Ludwig joined by Cavalli, Muzic and new signing, recently crowned Australian TT champion, Grace Brown, all looking to take chances for what will be an important race for the only French WorldTeam.
The team has not always been able to dream with such ambition, but Uttrup Ludwig’s Burgos victory was not only signifiant for her. Though it was not their first top tier success, the win after a lumpy day to Ojo Guareña was a landmark for the team.
“I was not a small victory because there were a lot of big riders, Anna van der Breggen, Van Vleuten, Niewiadoma,” explained team manager Stephen Delcourt. “It was a new step and after that we realised that all is possible. We can play to win every race.”
That conviction comes on the back of a deliberate strategy to internationalise, adding valuable experience to help their young French riders. While it was serendipitous that Muzic scored that milestone win with a stage at the 2020 Giro, it is the foreign women who have bought the Poitiers based squad most success.
Uttrup Ludwig had already joined the team when Muzic took that victory, and finished two seconds from the general classification podium that year - she might have finished higher had the team not lost 1-33 on the opening stage Team Time Trial.
And after she crashed in the same stage at last year’s re-named Giro Donne, another of the squad’s foreign legion stepped up, former Italian champion Marta Cavalli taking fifth overall after a stunning display on the mountainous parcours.
Cavalli’s signing, Brown’s arrival and Muzic’s ongoing development mean FDJ will challenge this year making big race wins more a probability than wishful thinking, including in Italy and France this July. However, the team, along with all others, will need to plan carefully given the two races’ proximity on the calendar.
“I think it's gonna be super hard,” says Uttrup Ludwig, whose thoughtful, intelligent responses are even more engaging than the gushing post race TV responses she is known for. “But on the other hand, the men can handle three weeks of stage racing, and luckily, we have a little break in between!
“We haven't tried this before, but it is possible if you have the right planning going into it and knowing that you'll have rest period [between races.]
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