Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig is a fighter. She has shown that time and time again. Think of her win in stage three of the Tour de France Femmes in 2022, for example, when, after months of suffering from Covid-19, she clawed her way back to the front group and outsprinted the likes of Demi Vollering and Marianne Vos at the finish line in Épernay. Think back to just a few weeks ago, when she found herself in the select group of favourites at the World Championships and she was unafraid to attack and try to win rainbows, regardless of the accolades held by the riders she was racing against.
After her brave all-or-nothing move to win the final stage of the Tour of Scandinavia a few days ago, Uttrup Ludwig said it herself: “I’m a Viking, let’s go.” While she might not be partaking in military attacks or raiding and invading countries, it’s true that Uttrup Ludwig possesses many of the same qualities as a fierce warrior.
As the stage rolled on, the rain lashed down on the roads of Haderslev and the peloton rapidly diminished in size. Riders navigated the precarious, slippery tarmac with their bodies shaking from the cold, their jerseys barely recognisable, soaked in grime. This was the final day of the Tour of Scandinavia and some looked resigned to just getting to the finish safely, ticking off a day that would go down as one of the grimmest of their careers. The visibility was so bad that even the lenses on the TV cameras were struggling to pick out the front of the peloton as it weaved through the series of corners that made up the closing kilometres of the race.
There had been a breakaway that had already been blown apart from a crash on a wet corner, and the peloton looked to be hurtling towards an inevitable bunch sprint. Annemiek van Vleuten was the general classification leader and it looked like she had things sewn up – a sprint finish would be ideal for the Movistar rider who simply would have to cross the line to sew up the overall victory in the final Tour of Scandinavia of her career. With just 900 metres of the stage remaining, however, there was a moment.(Image: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)
Uttrup Ludwig sat exactly eleven riders back in the peloton, visible in her green jersey as leader of the sprint classification. She was also sitting second on GC, 17 seconds behind Van Vleuten who had gained time on the Danish rider in the time trial the day before. Uttrup Ludwig had to just follow the wheel of Van Vleuten to take home her second place overall in her home WorldTour race – a highly respectable result. But Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig does not start races in order to finish second. Like a Viking, she will fight to win to the bitter end.
So then it came, her move in the final kilometre of the race. Taking the peloton by surprise, Uttrup Ludwig attacked and shot to the opposite side of the road, opening up a gap in just a few short pedal strokes, her teeth gritted, her body rocking from the effort. Van Vleuten saw she had to follow but simply could not respond, looking around at other teams to help her with the chase. Up ahead, Uttrup Ludwig did not even sit back down in the saddle – the effort on her face was palpable, but the gap behind her was growing as the line came into view.
After a minute of powering to the finish, Uttrup Ludwig crossed the line alone and punched the air triumphantly, winning the final stage of her home race – one that many expected to be nailed on for the sprinters. Danish fans cheered passionately by the side of the road – Uttrup Ludwig had given them the fairytale they hoped for in this stage.
(Image: Claus Fisker/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)
When the calculations were done ahead of the podium ceremony, however, Uttrup Ludwig’s win had not been enough to secure the overall victory at the Tour of Scandinavia along with her final stage five win. While she had taken 15 seconds on Van Vleuten with her spectacular attack, two seconds that the older rider had earned in the time trial stage still remained between the two riders on the general classification. Van Vleuten’s strong performance in the race against the clock and second place finish behind Uttrup Ludwig on the queen stage to Norefjell on stage two had been enough to give the 40-year-old the overall Tour of Scandinavia win in her final season as a professional.
Of course, Van Vleuten’s showing throughout the race should be applauded – it’s proof, if we needed it, that she is going to leave the sport at the end of the year at the very, very top. Retiring as one of the best riders in the peloton is well deserved luxury for the Dutchwoman.
Despite her eventually finishing second overall, Uttrup Ludwig’s performance at the Tour of Scandinavia stands out, too. Throughout the race, the FDJ-Suez rider exuded panache, race craft and fighting spirit. She climbed with the best and outsprinted them in the mountains, she fought hard to limit her losses in the time trial and even when everyone thought the general classification was said and done, Uttrup Ludwig still gave it one more roll of the dice.
It’s true that, this time, it didn’t quite work out like Uttrup Ludwig would have hoped. She still left the race with two stage wins and second place on the general classification, as well as the joy of her nation behind her, but Uttrup Ludwig, like all of the best athletes, wanted to leave with perfection. Eventually, the Dane’s relentless pursuit of victory, through her wild attacks, brave racing style and infectious energy, will surely pay off. And even if for some reason it doesn’t, fans will always be grateful for Uttrup Ludwig’s presence in the peloton. The rider who races with her heart and proves it with her legs, the rider who, when asked what her strategy is when she attacks, simply replies: “Full gas.”
Cover image: Luc Claessen/Getty Images