Cambridge's Men and Women are both defending champions going into this year's clashNordin Ćatić

The calm before the storm. A cliché so often called upon yet so frequently fitting. The storm that is The Boat Race, however, has been raging on since September 2021, with all four openweight crews, Light and Dark Blue alike, thrashing out rigorous training regimes in preparation for twenty minutes of carnage on the Tideway.

For the Cambridge crews, it’s been an admirable case of balancing studies and rowing on numerous days every week: waking up in college, ferociously cycling to Goldie Boathouse, then coming back to attend lectures, and finally getting the train up to Ely for a session on the River Great Ouse. Tom George, the six-seat in the Light Blue Men’s boat, sums it up best: “Everyone’s charging around”.

Patrick Ryan had been with CUBC as assistant and development coach since 2013 before being appointed Women’s Chief CoachNordin Ćatić

Rewinding to September last year, Cambridge University Boat Club (CUBC) appointed Patrick Ryan as the new Chief Coach of the Women’s squad and, before the majority of University students returned to the city, he had his team hitting the weight room.

Vigorous strength and conditioning sessions marked the early weeks of Ryan’s training regimeNordin Ćatić

With a map of the Championship Course on the Goldie wall, Ryan and the Light Blues knew the 4.25 miles of Tideway like the back of their hands, zeroed in on the challenge ahead.

Both Light Blue crews surrendered themselves to the ergs multiple times a weekNordin Ćatić

Elsewhere, CUBC Men were smashing out numbers on the relentless ergometers, moving back and forth in unison, displaying pure, flawless harmony like a well-oiled machine.

James Cracknell has supported CUBC Men this year in an advisory capacityNordin Ćatić

What may look like a brutal chamber of exertion was rowing brilliance and measured precision to Chief Coach Rob Baker, along with two-time Olympic gold medallist and 2019 Boat Race winner James Cracknell, who both scanned their eyes over Cambridge’s crop of talent.

The Kiwi pair of Ruby Tew and Grace Prendergast are both set to compete in their debut Boat RaceNordin Ćatić

When not in Goldie, the student athletes found themselves on the Ouse, undertaking outings in smaller groups of either two or four to hone their craft.

Following three months of crisp rowing in Ely, the Light Blues finally took to the Championship Course at the beginning of winter for the annual Trial VIIIs races. Both CUBC Men and Women were split into two crews each, and then ploughed up the Tideway in front of the watchful gazes of Baker and Ryan respectively.

‘Burpees’ won by a margin of two lengths over ‘Mr Sleepy’Ben Chattell/row360

‘Burpees’ and ‘Mr Sleepy’ blitzed the Course for the Men in December. Coach Baker slotted Tom George in at stroke for ‘Mr Sleepy’, providing a dose of festive experimentation, but the ‘Burpees’ crew came out on top with Ollie Parish at stroke and GB rower Ollie Wynne-Griffith in the engine room.

Some powerful stroking from Sarah Portsmouth (pictured front left) proved decisive for ‘Woody’Mike Taylor/@mike.cambridge

Unlike their male counterparts, CUBC Women were forced to reschedule to January following a spat with Covid-19 cases. But, when they did take to the Tideway, ‘Woody’ edged out ‘Buzz’ at the finish line. With both boats named after Coach Ryan’s dogs, the man in charge showed no favourites, posting two very solid crews that each had four 2022 Blues in their ranks.

After the luxury(ish) of friendly fire, both Cambridge crews got stuck into the nitty-gritty of club fixtures. CUBC Men triumphed over Leander in their first matchup, while the Women overhauled Oxford Brookes in the thick of Storm Eunice to take an opening win.

From left to right: (c) Jasper Parish, Imogen Grant, Grace Prendergast, Sarah Portsmouth, Bronya Sykes, Ruby Tew, Paige Badenhorst, Caoimhe Dempsey, Adriana Perez RotondoPeter Hogan/@peterhoganmedia

The crew announcement earlier this month (7/3) offered a short break from fixture action, with the Light and Dark Blue squads piling into an upmarket hotel hall before a host of media notepads and cameras. Presented by the legendary Andrew Cotter, the two clubs named their eighteen-strong crews, with little surprise for both the Cambridge Men’s and Women’s boats.

Adriana Perez Rotondo and Sarah Portsmouth were both absent from the Women’s final fixture, but will sit in the Blue boat next Sunday (3/4)Roesie Percy/@a_blind_photographer

Departing the stage and returning to their seats on the water, Cambridge clashed with the finest of Dutch rowers last week for their final fixtures before the Boat Race. The Women beat Nereus - a highly successful student rowing club based in Amsterdam - over two pieces on Sunday (20/3).

Seb Benzecry (three-seat) and Thomas Lynch (four-seat) stepped in for Ollie Parish and James Bernard against KNRB Roesie Percy/@a_blind_photographer

On the following day (21/3), Baker’s men defeated the Dutch National Team (KNRB), notably taking a five-length victory in the first piece on the Tideway.

As the training regime now sails to its conclusion, there remains only one question left to be answered: who will row the fastest on the day? Cambridge’s Women will be looking to make it a fabulous five wins in a row, while the Men will be gunning for a fourth consecutive victory.

The Championship Course, as it does year after year, will soak up the countless hours of preparation and release a racing spectacle this time next Sunday (3/4), closing a remarkable chapter of sporting prowess for Cambridge’s rowers.

The 167th Men’s and 76th Women’s Boat Races will take place on Sunday 3rd April. Join Varsity from 2pm on the day for live coverage of the historic event.