This is an extract from The Road Book Cycling Almanack 2021. To read the full contribution from Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, purchase your first edition in our shop.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig is one of the most talented and engaging riders in the women’s peloton. After racing La Course in 2018, and then the Tour of Flanders in 2019, she became well known across the world for giving post-race interviews on television that were brimming over with her love for the sport and her excitement at participating. Her default setting is searing honesty. Yet this enthusiasm can belie the fact that the Dane is a very serious athlete and belongs squarely in the small group of elite racers who routinely contest victory in the biggest races. And yet, going into 2021, she had yet to win a WorldTour race. That was about to change, but the journey to victory would be intense.
In January we had a team camp in Spain, in Cambrils. It’s one of those places that is a bit like a black hole. If there’s any wind around, it finds Cambrils. Every time we’re there, you step out of the front door of the hotel and it’s like a hurricane. Fuck! I mean, it’s unbelievable. But it was good training, although not on a TT bike; that would be scary.
After three weeks off the bike, I always feel like: ‘Holy crap, I’m in such a shit state! It’s so lucky that I am not racing for months.’ But I also feel that it’s so important from the mental side to really put the bike aside. Because then, when I get back on the bike, I’m super-hungry for training and preparing. I always think: ‘Next year I want to be even better. I want to train harder.’
I was supposed to make my season’s debut in Valencia. I always like to start there; it’s in Spain, quite close to where Girona is, the weather is normally OK and it’s a stage race so you can get into the rhythm of doing some hard racing. Then, a few weeks before the race, they cancelled it. I couldn’t help wondering if this was just the start of it – that all the next races would be cancelled too. But I was hopeful that the Belgian races would go ahead; after all, they’d held the Cyclocross World Championships there in January, so I always thought that Omloop Het Nieuwsblad would happen. What a tough start, though. I mean, right in at the deep end!
I was pretty calm on the morning before the race. Normally you’re so nervous before the first race of the season, worrying about your form compared to your competitors. But I knew there was nothing more that I could do; there was no more time for training. Now was the time to go out and play and hope for the best. But then when we drove into the big warehouse for the race presentation, it really struck home: ‘Shit’s getting real.’ And that’s when it hit me, and I started to get nervous.
It’s always a nervy start to Omloop. I remember thinking: ‘Wow, this is actually really nice weather for Belgium.’ It was 10 degrees and no rain, but for the first hour I was quite cold because the speed wasn’t so high. The break went and then we just trundled along.
When the break had about three minutes, we got stopped at a level crossing because a train had to pass. And straight away, every girl threw their bike into the gutter: it was time to pee! Everyone started peeing, and I thought to myself: ‘Now I think about it, I need to as well.’ But in Belgium the barriers don’t stay down for long. The train zoomed past, and less than 30 seconds later the barriers went up just as I was sitting there with my ass in the ditch. Half the peloton was crouching down peeing. Then the motorbikes pulled away and they restarted the race and I was still sitting there! It was actually pretty difficult to get all the clothing back on again with the radio and all the rest of it. We managed to get back on, but they hadn’t stopped the breakaway, so suddenly they had five minutes.
Then it was full speed ahead. Everyone was fighting for position onto the Molenberg at around 80km. I had an OK position coming onto the climb: not right at the very front but not too bad. Over the top, SD Worx put the whole team onto the front into the crosswind and the peloton split completely. I managed to stay in the front group, but lots of the favourites – like Lizzie Deignan and Annemiek van Vleuten – were behind. That was a huge moment in the race. Suddenly we were only about 30 riders and we still had more than 50km to go. From that moment on, the final phase of the race began. SD Worx had the numbers and so they kept attacking and counter-attacking. That was when Demi Vollering went.