Oxford arrived at an empty Cambridge boathouse on Friday 18th December, the Light Blues had cleared out and deep cleaned the facility for Oxford to have two days of training and racing in Ely. The Dark Blues enjoyed sunshine with a moderate tail wind for the Trial Races on Saturday 19th December.
There had been a number of challenges for Oxford in the lead up to the races, with University restrictions not allowing the crews to train on the water until 11th December. Just like Boat Race Day, the crews raced from Queen Adelaide Bridge to the outskirts of Littleport, a distance 4.89 km.
Trial Races are an important part of the Boat Race preparations, not just for the Crews and Coaches but also the Umpires. Due to the government changes to the regional COVID tiers, Boat Race Umpires Sarah Winckless and Judith Packer did not make the journey to Ely, instead Reserve Race Umpire Dr Kath Finucane stepped in to umpire both the Women’s and the Men’s Trial Races.
‘AstraZeneca’ & ‘Pfizer’ battle it out on the water as Oxford women test their mettle on the River Great Ouse
Kath Finucane, along with coxes and strokes from each boat held the toss for stations, as is traditional. AstraZeneca won and selected the Western side of the course, this seemed to be the favoured station for the races in Ely.
The crews were lined up for a free start alongside the 1944 Finish Stone, with both starting cleanly and sharply. Both crews were aggressive in the opening minutes, but it was Pfizer, stroked by returning Blue and 3rd year undergraduate Amelia Standing, who took the early advantage and dominantly moved out to ¾ length lead. Some opportunistic steering from Costanza Levy in the Pfizer boat put added pressure on Astra as blades overlapped in the middle of the course. After a warning from Umpire Kath Finucane, Pfizer moved back to the eastern bank and continued to extend their lead, with ‘Astra’ rowing at a rate of 35 strokes a minute and ‘Pfizer’ at 34 ½.
At the 5-minute mark, with the crews passing the first clearly visible markers on the bank, the lead increased and with two lengths between the crews, Pfizer moved in to take the centre line of the river for the advantageous water.
Despite Astra maintaining a high tempo, Pfizer increased their lead to 3 lengths coming past the Lark outlet on the eastern bank. With some back and forth throughout the second half of the race, Astra cox Joe Gellet rallied his crew who fought hard to alter the momentum of the race and to close the gap between themselves and their opposition to 2 ½ lengths. Neither crew backed down and the race finished with Pfizer winning by a verdict of 3 lengths.
Women’s Chief Coach Andy Nelder said: “Our trials race showed we have a good deal more talent in the team than we previously thought. It was also a reliability test for some athletes who had been injured and ill prior to lockdown. We weren’t certain about their condition, having been restricted to one week of rowing since the end of lockdown, but all came through with flying colours. It was invaluable for the rowers to experience the Ely stretch and its particular characteristics, which we’ll understand better after repeated visits. We look forward to training there in early January then for racing weekends in February and March. We are most grateful to the support staff at Cambridge for their hard work in making us welcome at the Ely boat house and look forward to the Boat Race on April 4th.”
Women’s President Kaitlyn Dennis: “There was much excitement on the OUWBC squad surrounding this year’s Trial Eights race. After spending many uncertain weeks indoors on the ergometers, the squad returned to the water in Wallingford focused and elated to be given the opportunity to race in Ely. Both crews showed their resilience and important lessons were learned regarding the course and race tactics. The squad is feeling confident and is looking forward to pushing themselves further in the New Year. Thank you to the CUBC staff for welcoming us to Ely and keeping us safe.”
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‘Track’ and ‘Trace’
It was a clean aggressive start for the men’s race, with both crews hitting high rates off the start. ‘Trace’, stroked by Jean-Philippe Dufour, in white tech tops moved out to take the early lead with cox Oliver Perry calling for his crew to make the most of the early advantage.
Umpire Kath Finucane was busy for much of the early race as the two crews battled it out with overlapping blades. Both coxes determined to hold their water, responded to the warnings from the Umpire, but kept coming back together to make the most of the stream. ‘Track’ stroked by last year’s president, Augustin Wambersie refused to let the early leaders slip away and started to move back as the crews passed the Lark. As the crews started to overlap again there was a clash of blades and ‘Track’, coxed by Jack Tottem, stole the advantage to continue their move through ‘Trace’. With around 1000m left to race, ‘Track’ cleared ‘Trace’ and as they crossed the finish line just short of Littleport bridge they had established a two-length lead.
“We saw competitive racing in Trial Eights. Both crews, Track and Trace, put down excellent performances on the River Great Ouse. Trace had a great start and edged their bow ahead of Track for the first half of the race. Track maintained composure and rowed well from behind to win by 2 lengths. Both the days building up and the race itself proved to be great learning experiences. The squad is now taking some well-deserved time to recover and enjoy some family time before we return in January,” commented Alex Bebb, OUBC President
“Trail Eights was a very useful event allowing us to get a full racing experience on the new Boat Race course at Ely as well as test out some combinations in a hard race in tricky conditions. Both crews played their part and we saw an interesting battle develop with Track coming through in the second half benefitting from some good efficiency and better skill in the rough water. Trace lost ground too quickly as they struggled to deal with the bouncy water and fatigue but overall, with only 9 days to prepare the standard of rowing was at a good level and we went home with a sense of a successful day and plenty to reflect on,” said Sean Bowden, OUBC Chief Coach
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