Countdown to The Boat Races: It’s Tideway Week

Pic 1. Until the 1939-1945 War, Tideway Week was a very big spectator event and police were needed to keep the crowds out of the way of the crews. This London Transport poster of the 1930s reflects the interest that a well-informed general public had in the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race.
Until the 1939-1945 War, Tideway Week was a very big spectator event and police were needed to keep the crowds out of the way of the crews. This London Transport poster of the 1930s reflects the interest that a well-informed general public had in the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race.

23 March 2016

Tim Koch writes:

The build-up to Boat Race Day 2016, on 27 March, has begun in earnest, and 22 March saw the official start to ‘Tideway Week’ for the eight crews (men’s and women’s Blue Boats and men’s and women’s Reserve Boats) in what is now called the “Cancer Research UK Boat Races’. Although the rowers may have been living in or near Putney before the start of Tideway Week, they will now have the added pleasure of having the press and photographers observe their every outing in the last few days before the big event that will, for some at least, define their university years. The physically hard training is now over and time is taken up by relatively gentle paddles on the water and eating large meals off the water.

Pic 2. Cambridge at Putney in 1932 – but this is not Boat Race Day, the crew is simply on a training outing. This is a typical crowd that would be present every day of Tideway Week.
Cambridge at Putney in 1932 – but this is not Boat Race Day, the crew is simply on a training outing. This is a typical crowd that would be present every day of Tideway Week.
Pic 3. Tideway Week 1930. Young gentlemen from both universities stroll along the Embankment. Rowing kit was only for wearing in the boat.
Tideway Week 1930. Young gentlemen from both universities stroll along the Embankment. Rowing kit was only for wearing in the boat.

To quote myself from last year: the journey to the Tideway is a long and difficult one, beginning on the Cam and the Isis, and progressing to Ely and Wallingford via the gym and the ergo room. For those who do well in these places, their first visit to the Thames Tideway comes long before March’s Tideway Week.

December 2015: Trial Eights
These were not contests of Light Blue v Dark Blue, they were intra-university races, Oxford racing Oxford and Cambridge racing Cambridge, where the last sixteen rowers and last two coxswains from each university battle it out in theoretically matched boats, all eighteen hoping to impress the coach, who has to make the final selection. This is the only time that the candidates for the Blue Boats will race the full course, and the Trials are an important learning experience for athletes and coxes and an intense selection test, especially as it gives some indication of how individuals may cope with race-day pressure.

My HTBS report on the women’s trials was posted on HTBS at the time.

Pic 4. The Cambridge women’s trial boats at the end of Putney Embankment.
The Cambridge women’s trial boats at the end of Putney Embankment.
Pic 5. The Oxford women battle it out along Corney Reach.
The Oxford women battle it out along Corney Reach.

Chris Dodd reported for HTBS on the men’s trials, giving us the benefit of his unique experience.

Pic 6. The Oxford trial boats shoot Hammersmith Bridge.
The Oxford trial boats shoot Hammersmith Bridge.
Pic 7. The Cambridge trial crews and the following entourage at Hammersmith.
The Cambridge trial crews and the following entourage at Hammersmith.

Post Christmas Fixtures
To quote the excellent Boat Race website:

In the final preparations (the crews) will pit themselves against some of the best domestic and international competition. This will give racing experience to the Blue Boat and Reserve Crew line-ups, aid the coaches in finalising selection difficulties and fuel anticipation of this year’s Races …

Sadly, I was not able to attend all of the fixtures but I have shamelessly plagiarised the official website reports and also linked to them, if you want more than my summery. The fixture races are usually in two pieces, each racing half of the 4 1/4 mile course.

30 January: Cambridge v Oxford Brookes
In the first race Cambridge were down by two lengths at one point but went on to win by the same amount. In the second piece, Brookes briefly led off the start but finished three lengths down. The official website said: ‘This was a strong start….. (Cambridge) showed tenacity in overcoming their early deficit and were clinical in securing victory early on in the second piece – both virtues (coach Trapmore) will hope to see in his race day Blue Boat.’

Pic 8. Cambridge and Brooks at Hammersmith Bridge.
Cambridge and Brookes at Hammersmith Bridge.
Pic 9. The second piece along Chiswick Eyot.
The second piece along Chiswick Eyot.

31 January: Cambridge Women v Oxford Brookes Women
Both crews seemed to have agreed to stay in the slowest water and Brookes took the lead, though never had clear water. Cambridge slowly moved back and drew level at Harrods and then moved away to win by a length at Hammersmith Bridge. In the second piece there was little between the crews initially but the Light Blues eventually began to move away. A crab ended any hopes that Brooks may have had and they lost by three lengths.

Pic 10. Crustacean time for Brooks as the Cambridge Women move away.
Crustacean time for Brooks as the Cambridge Women move away.

21 February: OUBC v Oxford Brookes
The official report says: ‘(Brookes were) utilising a race plan that was much more composed than the extremely aggressive start versus Cambridge two weeks ago.’ OUBC took a small lead initially but Brooks moved back to be two-thirds of a length up at Hammersmith Bridge. They lost this due to a crab and OUBC looked to be coming back when the race had to be stopped early due to sailing boats on the race line. The second piece again saw an initial OUBC lead but this time Brookes went ahead and stayed there, winning by two lengths. The generous official summary: ‘OUBC used their bends well to contain a composed Brookes crew and fought hard around the outside of the bend in the latter stages, but Brookes proved too strong in the rough water.’

Pic 11. Isis and Brooks at Hammersmith.
Isis and Brookes at Hammersmith.
Pic 12. Oxford and Brooks at Hammersmith.
Oxford and Brookes at Hammersmith.
Pic13. Hello sailors. The first Oxford v Brooks race ends early.
Hello sailors. The first Oxford v Brookes race ends early.

22 and 26 February: Molesey Women take on Cambridge  and then Oxford  Women
Cambridge defeated Molesey ‘convincingly’ by six lengths in a piece from Chiswick Steps to Putney. Four days later, Oxford did the same in three races, winning by two, four and two lengths.

12 March: Cambridge v German U23
Showing ‘calmness under pressure’ Cambridge did well to defeat a crew featuring a number of international U23 medallists by two lengths in the first piece and by three-and-a-half in the second. The official report said that ‘This was a strong result for Cambridge, and demonstrated well their ability to deal with the pressure of match racing.’

12 March: Oxford v Leander
Having lost to Brookes in January, Oxford now raced a Leander development crew in a single piece from Putney Bridge to Chiswick Eyot. Leander took the lead from the start and were half a length up at Harrods, increasing this to three-quarters as the bend went in their favour. Oxford had got most of this back by Chiswick Eyot giving Leander a win by about two seats. The report stated: ‘This was a stern test for an Oxford crew who have improved greatly since their meeting with Brookes.’

13 March: Oxford Women v Newcastle Women
Oxford won easily in all three pieces demonstrating ‘the strength of their rhythm in less than favourable conditions.’

Pic 14. 2015: Oxford Coach Sean Bowden practices inscrutability.
2015: Oxford Coach Sean Bowden practices inscrutability.

As I have said before, for a two-horse event the Boat Race is very difficult to call. One man who claims that he has no such problems is the very brave Daniel Spring, a.k.a. ‘Fatsculler’.  In his prediction on the women’s race he says ‘I’m not going to sit on the fence, I’m going to call this an Oxford win by 2 lengths.’ For the men’s race he is ‘going for a Light Blue win, I reckon Oxford will lead off the start but by Chiswick Eyot the Light Blues will be in front and will take the race by a length.’ Can’t you be more precise Daniel? If he is right, remember, you heard it here second.

The online Daily Telegraph gives these odds: Cambridge men 8/11, Oxford men 11/10, Oxford women 4/9 and Cambridge women 7/4. Thus the Cambridge men and the Oxford women are the bookmakers’ favourites.

Pic 15. 2015: Cambridge Coach Steve Trapmore gets an approving look from a predecessor, Cambridge Coach Steve Fairbairn.
2015: Cambridge Coach Steve Trapmore gets an approving look from a predecessor, Cambridge Coach Steve Fairbairn.

I am not making any predictions but surely few would deny that the Cambridge men are the best Light Blue Crew for a few years. But is that good enough? I’ll tell you at about 4.30pm on 27 March.

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