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It looked like Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig was crying, and she was, but it also sounded like she was laughing. She was laughing. She sat on the pavement two hundred meters after the finish line in Le Grand Bornand and bubbled over like a science fair volcano.
“It was absolutely amazing,” she said. Happy tears and salty temples. Big smile. “I will remember this day for the rest of my life.”
It was one of those deeply human moments that sport is so adept at providing. A bike race, to fans, is just a bike race, but a bike race to a bike racer is the tiny tip of an iceberg of toil and sacrifice that stretches back weeks and months and years and into the very depths of their self. The bike race, to the bike racer, isn’t an entity in itself. It isn’t self-contained. It is a culmination. It sits atop the waves, visible, while a whole life of effort sits just below.
La Course was once again disappointing in its brevity. It was woeful in the fact that we don’t get to watch at least a few more days of punch-up racing like we saw on Tuesday. And yet the mood among its participants was near-universally ecstatic. The fans, the riders said, were incredible. They lined the route in the thousands, screaming at the leaders, waving flags at everyone, trying to get the gruppetto to take food and pushes. “I got a Pringle hand up,” said Sunweb’s Ruth Winder. Two guys in Borat suits ran up the Col de la Colombiere. “Of course I gave them a high five,” said Tibco’s Brodie Chapman, throwing out a Borat impersonation.
This is the difficult thing about La Course. It feels like it’s not enough; no, it’s definitely not enough. And yet, it is so much. You can see that in the rider’s faces, in Uttrup Ludwig’s tears. It is the platform of the Tour de France, the greatest race on earth. It is the thousands of people on the roadside, the Borat guys, the Pringle givers, the horde of press at the finish line.
Uttrup Ludwig will remember this day for the rest of her life not because she won — she was fourth, Annemiek van Vleuten won — but because one of her finest athletic moments was visible to the masses. This is the world’s stage. She was on it, attacking off the front.
“Having people cheer for you, on the climb, and even I saw so many Danish flags and people having banners with Cecilie, yelling my name, even French people, not even Danish, yelling my name,” Uttrup Ludwig said, the words rushing out of her mouth, as if she still couldn’t quite believe them. “It’s so crazy. Oh, I love this sport. It’s so amazing.”