Head of the River Race

HENRY CHARRINGTON sees the Cambridge Lightweights fight back and the colleges fight for supremacy at this year’s Head of the River Race.

Barnes Bridge bath Bristol caius Cambridge University Lightweights Chris Bellamy downing Hallady henley Regatta thames

Cambridge University Lightweights avenged last weekend’s defeat at Henley Boat Races to beat the Oxford lightweights by 4 seconds, while Cauis continued their dominance of college rowing this term by securing the only top-100 finish for a college crew.

Just a week after their defeat, CULRC joined 19 college crews on the Thames to race the men’s Head of the River Race, an event run over the reverse of the boat race course, and the focal point of the head season for crews across the country.

Indeed, CULRC took it as “a prime opportunity to show [their] speed on the national rowing scene”. They did just that, finishing 31st and winning the Halladay Trophy, beating Bristol and Bath University first boats, not to mention other top university and club crews, in the process.

CULRC looked good over the longer distance

Most importantly, however, they turned the tide on Oxford, beating them comfortably over the 6.8km course. Despite losing by a canvas last weekend, Cambridge were confident that they had the better pace over the longer distance. Oxford could only manage a finishing position of 35th, and their victory last weekend will surely have been tarnished by their performance on Saturday.

In an extremely commendable turnaround from their race last Sunday, the lightweights approached the race with an attitude and determination that reveals, for President Chris Bellamy, that “CULRC really isn’t just about winning the Lightweight Boat Race any more”. With BUCS and Henley Royal Regatta, alongside numerous other races, to look forward to, the lightweights do not look like letting up any time soon. Indeed, under new head coach John Thicknes, the Lightweights appear to be a more positive force in national rowing than they have been for some time.

Elsewhere on the river, Caius managed to convert their Cam success to a decent result at national level, capping a remarkable term. Although they were the only college crew to make the top-100 (coming in at 88th), they will be disappointed that they did not manage to emulate Downing’s success of last year (a remarkable 67th).

Hindered by an overtaking disaster at Barnes Bridge, which resulted in a blade to the chest of the stroke man, and a hole in their boat, Downing (171st), however, failed to match their previous performance. Perhaps good bumping practice, they lost out to a number of college crews that they would have fancied themselves against.

Peterhouse (129th) were the second fastest college, an impressive result for one of the traditional minnows of college rowing, while Jesus (135th) came back from an unsuccessful term to be the third fastest college. Add in FaT (158th), Pembroke (169th), and Selwyn (176th) it is clear how close it is among the colleges, the exception being Clare (277th).

It would, however, not be particularly wise to take this race as a firm indicator of success in next term’s May Bumps. Not only will college crews have University rowers to return, but results from the Head of the River Race can be seriously impacted by dodgy steering and starting position (the stream is much stronger at the start of the race than at the end, causing significant timing differences).

It was, however, a successful event, and provides a good end point for Lent’s racing. Attention now turns to May Bumps, with training camps starting in just a couple of weeks time.

Photo by Henry Elkington