After three consecutive wins for Oxford, the Cambridge men emerged victorious in the Cancer Research UK Men’s Boat Race amid unfavourable Easter conditions. Sean Bowden’s Oxford had won seven Boat Races in the previous ten years, with Cambridge’s last victory coming in 2012. This time around, there was little doubt as to which crew would lift the trophy at the Mortlake Boat Club, as Cambridge sped into an early lead at Putney Bridge which the Dark Blues were unable to assail.
This was a race won by the greater experience of the Cambridge boat, which featured four returning Blues from last year – President Henry Hoffstot, Luke Jucket, Ben Ruble and cox Ian Middleton. Much akin to the women’s race earlier in the day, stellar work from the cox position proved decisive.
Winning the toss and opting for the Surrey side that had helped the Oxford women to a victory an hour earlier, Middleton steered Cambridge noses ahead despite an unsteady stroke rate. Edging forward, the composure of Lance Tredell at stroke, and the intelligent guidance of Middleton, combined to prevent Oxford from making it four in a row as Cambridge glided past Craven Cottage a half boat ahead before Oxford could even get going. The inside of the Middlesex bend only enhanced Cambridge’s lead, as they edged almost a full length ahead of of Oxford heading into Hammersmith Bridge, with little sign so far of the violent water that had put paid to the efforts of the Cambridge women.
Oxford women’s cox, Morgan Baynham-Williams, had hit the decisive blow in the women’s race by steering her crew towards the smoother, shallower water of the Surrey station. So it proved here also when Middleton followed suit, leaving Oxford hanging on and needing to dig. Cambridge number two Ali Abbasi was quick to highlight Middleton’s contribution: "Ian deserves great credit for this race," he told The Cambridge Student, "He pushed us right through those rough conditions and guided us through. We knew that if we could hold the lead we could dictate the course of this race and that’s what we did."
No sooner though did Chiswick arrive than did the choppy waters that had made the difference between winners and losers in the first race. Oxford were left needing to assail Cambridge’s lead just enough to prevent the Light Blues from choosing their lines for the Surrey Bend. Cries came from Oxford’s Sam Collier that the Cambridge crew, well ahead at this point, were still within reach. As it happened, they weren’t.
Asked about his team’s handling of the weather that had given the Cambridge women such a hard time, men’s coach Steve Trapmore could hardly contain his pride: "I thought they were incredible," he told a packed out press room in Mortlake, "It’s a tough ask to come up against them. It makes it all the sweeter to know that we’ve beaten their tenacity today. It’s a great thing for the future of the club."
Though both boats began taking on water, the race passed almost uneventfully in comparison to the women’s showpiece. Heading to the Middlesex Bank, Cambridge reserved the worst of the Thames conditions for Oxford in a piece of coxing reminiscent of the race immediately before. Oxford, well over a length behind come Barnes Bridge, would need to stage a comeback not seen since a Cambridge collapse in 2002. An historic revanche was not to take place. Legs dying, buffeted by the wind and rough river waters, Oxford found themselves two and a half lengths adrift as Cambridge crossed the finish line at Mortlake.
Outgoing Cambridge President, Henry Hoffstot, spoke of his relief at winning the trophy at the third time of asking: "I’m at a loss for words. Having lost twice it’s an unbelievable feeling. We went out there to attack at the start and we did exactly that."
So how do Cambridge build on this year’s victory? "I’m not back next year," Hoffstot told us, "but in Lance Tredell’s hands the team will be in great shape next year. Our coach Steve did a phenomenal job with the crew and I’m sure he took a lot of confidence from today which is going to help going forward. We’ve really turned the tide here today."