‘Burpees’ led their opposition, ‘Mr Sleepy’, for the vast majority of the 4.25-mile race@theboatrace/Twitter

Cambridge University Boat Club (CUBC) Men’s squad undertook a successful outing in this year’s Gemini Trial VIIIs event today (20/12), as two crews - ‘Mr Sleepy’ and ‘Burpees’ - raced each other from Putney to Mortlake on the Championship Course.

Prior to Monday’s matchup, the Lightweight Men’s crews of ‘Business Meeting’ and ‘Christmas Party’ went blade-to-blade on the water yesterday (19/12), with the former winning by five lengths in a time of 18:39. Oxford University Boat Club (OUBC) also saw their ‘Gondor’ and ‘Rohan’ boats compete on the same day, with the latter claiming victory by a margin of 1.25 lengths.

Before the race, CUBC President, and Mr Sleepy cox, Charlie Marcus expressed the club’s excitement for the main event: “This year’s Trial VIIIs will give many squad members their first taste of side by side match racing from Putney to Mortlake and everyone will be looking to make a good impression on the water where it counts the most”. He added: “The course can be challenging and deserves respect, but we are excited to be returning to the home of The Boat Race”.

Additionally, CUBC chief coach Rob Baker provided his outlook on Trial VIIIs: “It’s ultimately a test for the individuals and units. I want to see what the guys are going to do when they are under pressure and stress, and at those critical points in the race where they’ve got to dig in together”.

In crew news, Mr Sleepy’s pair of Seb Benzecry and Charlie Marcus were returning rowers from 2021’s winning Blue boat, along with Burpees’ stroke Ollie Parish. Meanwhile, hard-hitting New Zealander James Hunter was ruled out due to injury, subsequently replaced by ergo-specialist and Tokyo bronze-medalist Tom George at stroke in the Mr Sleepy boat.

A last-minute change by coach Baker saw Tom Marsh switch from the Burpees to Mr Sleepy crew, with Reef Boericke going the other way. Baker also moved George’s fellow medalist Ollie Wynne-Griffith from stroke to bow side for Burpees.

Cambridge’s two boats took to the water just after midday under miserable weather conditions on the Thames. The blue tops donned by Mr Sleepy occupied the Middlesex bank of the river, while the white shirts of Burpees were stationed on Surrey.

Umpire Matt Smith got the race underway just shy of the scheduled 13:35 start. Mr Sleepy initially struggled with steering, but aggressively took an early lead over Burpees with strong work from Tom George in the stroke seat, stealing an early ⅓-length lead on the opening straight.

Going into the Middlesex bend, however, Mr Sleepy’s slim advantage was soon cancelled out by the Burpees crew with a far quicker split round the outside of the bend. Some great coxing from Charlie Marcus pushed Burpees wide, making aspiring Blues cox Oliver Boyne work hard for his line.

Coming out of the corner and into the second straight, Ollie Parish pushed the Burpees boat hard from the stroke seat, as he approached his former place of education, St Paul’s School.

With Burpees on top as they looked to tackle the Surrey bend, their boat was forced into an uncomfortable position by Mr Sleepy’s Marcus, with blades coming within metres of each other as the blue tops went close round the outside. Although the splits were fairly even after 2.5km, Burpees held a narrow lead going under Hammersmith Bridge.

7-seat James Bernard’s half-stroke slightly wobbled Burpees’ rhythm but to little consequence, as Parish was winning the battle of the strokes against George going into the tighter part of the Surrey bend.

Approaching Fuller’s Brewery, Burpees were looking more relaxed out in front, with Caius’ George Hawkswell looking very sharp in the bow seat. Mr Sleepy fell behind as the boats moved past St Paul’s, as Parish refused to give an inch and really let the blade stay in.

Burpees’ Boyne shifted his boat across to sit in front of Mr Sleepy as the pair went into the next turn, sending back puddles that made it even tougher for the trailing crew. Marcus’ efforts to move Mr Sleepy into some cleaner water gained a slight edge on the split, but Burpees reamined unphased as they continued to pull away.

Boyne took a wide line on the close of the Surrey bend to quickly move across the path of the falling opposition, again able to capture quite a margin. Despite Marcus’ efforts for clean water, Mr Sleepy still found it difficult in the puddles, leaving George unable to put his power down in the stroke position and consequently placing the rest of his crew in difficulty too.

Amidst a backdrop of lots of chopping and changing in the CUBC boats beforehand, the stern pair of Parish and Bernard were really working well together for Burpees, as both boats were nearing Barnes Bridge. Parish’s strong core gave him the chance to sit up at the front end, drive hard, and let the blade come up nicely at the back end of his stroke.


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Tackling the final bend with relative ease, Burpees maintained a steady lead, as Mr Sleepy kept pace yet struggled to make any last-ditched charge to close the gap. Both crews opened their tanks for the last few hundred metres with the finishing positions already set.

Crossing the line by a winning stretch of two lengths, the Burpees crew secured a well-deserved win over Mr Sleepy, who never looked to get back in the race after the white shirts pulled away coming out of Hammersmith.

With a lot of technically gifted rowers that have made the step up from college and the Goldie crew in their ranks, the Light Blues will hope to ramp up their development over the next few months, as they’ll likely take on match races against the likes of Oxford Brookes University Boat Club, Leander Club, and University of London Boat Club in the new year.

Unfortunately, the scheduled Women’s event did not take place over the weekend due to postponement, with The Boat Race Company Ltd. deciding to push the races back to a later date in January after CUBC and Oxford University Women’s Boat Club each reported a positive Covid-19 case.

Looking ahead, CUBC will have to wait until Sunday 3rd April to next navigate the Championship Course, as both squads will take on the Dark Blues in the 167th Men’s and 76th Women’s Boat Races.

Crews

‘Mr Sleepy’

Bow. Seb Benzecry (Jesus)

2: Peter Stevens (Queens’)

3: Tom Marsh (St John’s)

4: Tom Lynch (Hughes Hall)

5: George Finlayson (Peterhouse)

6: Cameron Spiers (Downing)

7: Luca Ferraro (King’s)

Stroke: Tom George (Peterhouse)

Cox: Charlie Marcus (Trinity)

‘Burpees’

Bow: George Hawkswell (Gonville & Caius)

2: Henry Evans (St. Edmund’s)

3: Reef Boericke (Gonville & Caius)

4: Hugo Durward (Sidney Sussex)

5: Ollie Wynne-Griffith (Peterhouse)

6: Simon Schürch (St Edmund’s)

7: James Bernard (St Edmund’s)

Stroke: Ollie Parish (Peterhouse)

Cox: Oliver Boyne (Downing)