7 March 2018
Tim Koch looks for clues.
Sunday, 4 March saw the final fixture races in the run-up to Boat Race Day 2018 – including the last women’s race, Molesey against Oxford. The women’s fixtures have given less opportunity for comparison of performances than have the men’s contests as OUWBC and CUWBC have not raced the same crews:
17 February, CUWBC vs University of London: Cambridge won the first piece by five lengths and the second by ‘clear water’.
18 February, CUWBC vs Westminster School. I cannot find out anything about this slightly strange fixture, presumably against schoolboys.
24 February, OUWBC vs Oxford Brookes: Oxford beat Brookes by three lengths in the first contest, and ‘by a few seats’ in the second.
4 March, OUWBC vs Molesey: Spoiler alert – Oxford won by five lengths.
The Oxford – Molesey (MBC) race report below is from theboatrace.org and my photographs were taken from the umpire’s catamaran, directly behind the crews, so do not suffer from parallax error.
Oxford (on Middlesex) managed to gain an advantage off the start, despite Molesey getting through the opening strokes quicker. Oxford’s stronger strokes gave them a lead of approximately three seats as the crews passed the boathouses. By the time the crews hit their racing rhythms…. Oxford were still moving further ahead whilst underrating their opponents and looking to make good use of the upcoming bend to Middlesex.
As the race moved around the first bend, Oxford took a firm grip of the race and moved out to a full length, working hard to gain an open water lead and end any hope of a Molesey victory. The Oxford rhythm remained strong and with encouragement from first-time Head Coach Andy Nelder, they continued to extend their lead passing the Milepost and Harrods Depository.
By Hammersmith Bridge, the advantage of the Surrey station was lost for Molesey and Oxford led by three lengths with the best of the stream.
Once at St. Paul’s School, a light headwind faced the crews, but neither boat seemed affected. Oxford continued to move away from Molesey and secured a victory at Chiswick Steps by approximately five lengths.
The pundits seem to be favouring the Cambridge women to win on 24 March. On 29 November, ‘Fatsculler’, Daniel Spring, wrote:
on paper Cambridge look to have a much stronger squad with a double senior World Champion and four Under 23 Internationals against Oxford’s one lightweight international and one Under 23 international. Oxford also have a significant number of athletes in the squad who hadn’t rowed before going up. At the Head of the River Fours, Oxford only entered two boats but they were both outgunned by Cambridge finishing over one minute behind the leading Light Blue Boat. Based on the strength in depth and experience of the Cambridge squad, I have to pick them as the favourites – but there’s still a long way to go…
On 1 March, after the final crews were announced, Daniel did his usual seat by seat comparison:
On paper Cambridge have the advantage in all but one seat, and, so far the performances on the water have backed this up. Cambridge have produced some excellent results with wins at the Head of the River Fours, Quintin Head and a comprehensive victory over the University of London. But, Andy Nelder’s Oxford have begun to show form at just the right time with a good performance against Oxford Brookes last weekend… But, Cambridge will be heading into the final weeks of preparation as the clear favourites. My instinct says that Cambridge will win and win comfortably.
Echoing Daniel’s assertion that Oxford ‘have begun to show form at just the right time’, they were sharp and confident against Molesey (admittedly, they were never under much pressure). The Women in Black were missing a couple of key members but the question is, was Oxford fast, or was Molesey slow? I would incline to the former. If the inexperienced members of the Oxford crew do not succumb to Boat Race Day nerves on 24 March, perhaps the result will be a little closer than the Putney Pundits suggest?