Getting up at 4am on a Saturday is a great thing to do, said no-one ever. Nonetheless, 27 Cambridge triathletes did exactly that and made the two-hour trek to Eton Dorney, the venue for Varsity duathlon 2018. Despite Tom Wilson messaging the group chat to borrow a pair of gloves at 4.17am, the team arrived on time, well-equipped and in good spirits, riled somewhat by a rather frosty mid-journey Twitter exchange with Oxf*rd.
With equipment in transition, there was just enough time for a cheeky warmy-U before the race kicked off at 8.30am. A mass start, the men and women set off together, making for a mad dash toward the first corner. Cameraman, running captain and all-round legend George Roberts was cheering the team on from the sidelines, with Stephen Boardman, Matilda O’Callaghan’s family and Sasha Bailey’s mum also giving valuable support.
In the women’s race, hot favourite and international athlete Sophia Saller (Oxf*rd) set a blistering pace over the first 5k, and would eventually win by nine minutes – ‘nuff said. The real race, however, was taking place behind her, with Abbie Currington, Harry Rhodes and Matilda O’Callaghan locked in battle with some dark blues. These three members of the team are new to the sport this year, but showed no sign of nerves with budding geologist (if I say it enough she’ll become one) Currington settling into a good pace (probably in keeping with Stokes Law) and taking up 3rd position behind Dani Edmunds of the other place. Currington currently swims 500000 times a week, and attends a mean of one running session every two weeks: if she trained properly she’d probably have won.
Meanwhile, Katherine Williams was reaping the rewards of a Wednesday night cindies (to settle the nerves, ofc), just behind Aine Cahill who was doing a good job of channelling her anger at having her name said wrong so many times (Anya, eh-né, Ayne etc). Having appeared dead to the world until approximately two minutes before the start, Eleanor Salter clearly had a sufficiently long “snuggle” on the bus and was starting to wake up, posting a strong first 5k just ahead of Sasha Bailey and Charlotte Wright.
On the bike Cambridge’s athletes showed their class, with Currington and Rhodes in 3rd and 4th. Indeed, Harry rode so strongly she passed Currington near the end of the bike, making for an exciting battle exiting T2. Matilda O’Callaghan was also cementing her place near the front of the field, closely followed by Williams and Cloudy Carnegie, benefitting from having actually used her tri bars before this race – it turns out there is something to be said for training after all. Salter, Wright and Bailey were all in close attendance, and putting distance between themselves and Oxf*rd’s athletes.
Onto the second run and Currington passed Rhodes again, taking 3rd place and a very well-deserved spot on the podium. Rhodes and O’Callaghan made up the rest of the Cambridge Blues team, finishing 4th and 6th respectively, unfortunately missing out on the team prize.
Controversy now ensues. Aine Cahill had put in a wonderful bike leg and second run, finishing comfortably in 7th overall, and was closely followed by Williams (8th) and Carnegie (10th). Simple arithmetic here implies that the Cambridge seconds beat the Oxford seconds: the independently calculated spreadsheet said otherwise. This (putative) mistake was not noticed (by me or the Oxford president, both science students at supposedly prestigious universities) on the day and is yet to be resolved: Oxford currently have the trophy but it may well be making a welcome trip back to Cambridge. More definitely, there was nothing wrong with Wright, Salter and Bailey’s times, as they took the mob match in style with Salter (11th) and Bailey (12th) counting officially, though Wright (13th) put in a fantastic performance to beat all of Oxf*rd’s mob team and seal a resounding victory. Salter in particular looked extremely happy to finish, the latter probably because she could get home, wrap herself in a blanket with a mug of hot soup and go to sleep. Provisionally, Oxford 1, Cambridge 1.
Onto the men’s race and fresher Chris Davies was demonstrating the merits of a daily commute to and from Girton. The extra miles in the legs have obviously paid off as he led the first 5km from start to finish in 17:06. Just behind, ex-Irish schools champion Luke McCarron and Josh Harris were alongside eventual winner David Pearson and another Oxf*rd athlete, followed closely by a pack containing Rob Waddy, Nic Fatras and James Kershaw (along with Sophia Saller). Kershaw had been given pre-race motivation from Sasha Bailey’s mum, and knew he had to keep up lest he wouldn’t get a job in a crowded market moving into times of financial uncertainty.
Heading out of T1 and Cambridge were looking good, with 3 athletes in the top 5 and a strong pack following. Oxf*rd’s strength on the bike combined with their obsessive shaving habits, however, put four of their athletes out in front, with McCarron, Kershaw, Davies and Harris hanging on as best they could, while simultaneously teaching Harris the rules of duathlon mid-race. Behind them, Bloomfield was pulling his socks up and holding his own, though being from the north he struggled with the lack of hills and the generally pleasant weather.
Battling with Joe Gilbert, Tom Wilson was still struggling to comprehend the notion of pasta being served in a buttery, but made good use of his unexpected carbohydrate consumption the night before to power round the bike course, with Brad Fowler, Tim-“the van”-Kasoar, Karl Tillmo and Henry Fryzer not far behind.
Perhaps the most courageous act of the day was carried out by Ben Johnson, who’s puncture on the final bike lap left him no choice but to run the rest of the course. Having previously asked whether there would be a bacon van from which he could get breakfast before the race, Johnson was penalised by his team captain and nutritionist, who slashed his tyres when he wasn’t looking to deter him from making such mistakes in the future and save him from the peril of a mid-race chunder.
Lucky to avoid a similar fate were Eleanor Salter, Kat Williams and Nic Fatras, who advocated the eating of Soreen just an hour before the start: you have been warned. Simon Iremonger had made no such foolish foody mistakes and was making better progress, with his strength on the bike showing as he moved through the field. Onto the second run and Davies pulled away again, overtaking Oxf*rd’s president but having to settle for 4th, just 30 seconds behind 2nd place. Kershaw briefly kept up with McCarron but was promptly dropped again, the pair finishing 5th and 6th to round off the men’s blues, beaten by a narrow margin. The seconds, however, were much more successful, with Josh Harris (7th), Nic Fatras (9th) and Rob Waddy (10th) taking the win. 2 all. The men’s mob was a closely fought affair, with Bloomfield, Gilbert, Wilson, Fowler, Tillmo and Kasoar finishing in quick succession. Henry Fryzer put in a heroic performance to take three Oxf*rd athletes in the last 500m, while Johnson and Iremonger finished strongly. The Oxf*rd team prevailed though, taking the mob victory and with it a 3-2 lead.
The overall result, then, is yet to be decided, but I am almost certain it finished as a draw, Oxf*rd 3 Cambridge 3. Either way, the whole team can be proud of their performances, with huge improvements from BUCS across the board. We were defeated by Oxf*rd in the pub in the “how many pints can you drink before 12pm race”, but this is of no consequence: the team nutritionist is considering banning Kat Williams from drinking alcohol forever.
A big thanks to Tim for driving the van and George and Stephen for supporting. Thanks to Ewan Macauley’s encouragement, the whole team enjoyed a very cheeky warmy-D and the number of stiff legs has reportedly halved from last year’s value. GDBO.