Sunday, March 02, 2008

Bumping for victory

Rowing is the oldest sport at Oxford. Three big regattas a year are held on the Isis (or the Thames, as some people call it) with different rules for each. The different colleges vie for supremacy in each, with a good deal of kudos going to the winners. And of course there's also the Oxford vs Cambridge celebrity deathmatch which has been going on for yonks.

Eights is where it's at and each college has its own boat collection, sharing boathouse space with one or two other colleges. The boats cost £20,000 each so sinking one on the first day of a regatta is generally frowned upon. Because the students are too po' to pay for their own boats, it means an old college boy has to put their hand in their pocket to fund a new vessel. In return, they'll get their name on the boat. This system probably doesn't end up in a high ROI for the old boy, unless they float themselves on the stock exchange and become a going concern. But hey, they're all staggeringly rich so the odd 20K isn't going to matter.

I happened to be in Oxford visiting the other Lucy and Pete, whose bro Ben was rowing for Wolfson in the Torpids three day regatta. I had cycled up from Bath on the final day, Saturday, only getting slightly lost on the way, and was there well in time to learn the rules and watch the races.

Torpids is no ordinary competition where you line the boats up next to each other, fire the gun and everyone rows like buggery to the finish line. Instead, they start behind each other, one and a half boat lengths apart. The idea is to catch the boat in front of you, called 'bumping', then you can stop. You don't actually have to hit the boat, but it happens. More commonly, the cox in the boat in front concedes when there is some overlap. On the other hand, if the boat behind you catches you, you are 'bumped' but have to keep rowing until you either catch someone in front or you reach the finish line.

If you bump someone, you take the place in their next round, slowly moving up the ladder if you've got a good crew. The problem is, there are four divisions of about a dozen each, and because you only get one regatta a year, it can take years to move up a division. The lead boat in div I - should they manage to hold off all those behind it - gets to be Head of the River (uber prestigious). The other thing to aim for is four bumps in a single regatta, which earns your college a set of rowing blades.

Now, on the first day, University College hit a tree on one of the bends of the river and couldn't get going again, losing about 10 places all in one hit. That was disastrous for them, but at least they didn't sink it. And on the last day, we saw one boat catch another but the lead boat couldn't keep going because one guy had broken his oar. High drama there. They lost a few places too...

Ben's Wolfson college had a very good meet, moving up from Div III to Div II, bumping three times but just missing out on the last day on catching Lincoln, which had started two boats in front. St Edmunds (Teddy) Hall had started directly in front of Wolfson, but were faster and bumped Lincoln early, leaving a big gap for Wolfson to close. Meanwhile, Merton was trying to catch Wolfson from behind, and was getting close for a while but didn't do it.

It was surprisingly exciting. Especially when you had someone to cheer for.

The Head of the River, in both the men's and women's I think, went to Magdalen pronounced 'maudlin' College, who jumped a few places to keep long time top dogs Oriel out of the running and down in third place. Champagne concentration in the Isis rose as a result.

Most of the colleges rowed in uniform, and there were some really nice strips. Especially Christ Church and St Johns, who put their white hoodies on when warming up. And the college which had a yellow cross on a red background, which looked like it hailed from the crusades.

We wound up at the Lamb and Flag followed by a restaurant that served excellent bangers and mash, then the Jericho pub, then a bop (party type thing) at Balliol College. Some alcohol was consumed.

All in all, a brilliant Oxford experience.

Retro: What happened to the UQ team?

Talking to Marty, a friend of Lucy's, during the evening revealed that he hailed from the Uni of Queensland. Not only that, he was a good cyclist and did a couple of uni games in the early '90s. I realised our paths must have crossed at least once, and we reminisced about beating Robbie McEwen's team in the team time trial in Brisbane (McEwen won every other event, including the bloody time trial, and he broke away to win the road race solo). Significantly, I learned what happened to the UQ team in the TTT in Melbourne (or Diggers Rest to be accurate) in 1991.

Now, UQ had some decent riders, as we (Sydney) knew after being caned by them the previous year in Armidale. Michael 'Drago' O'Donoghue, Brett Lentz, Brad Hall and Marty formed their TTT team in Melbourne. Uni of NSW were strong too, with Paul O'Neill, Derek Walker and Ben Litchfield, and they ended up winning I think.

But UQ snatched defeat from the jaws of a victory after being forced to rely on a sick Marty as their third man. Brad Hall knew Marty wasn't going to make it so he did the gallant thing and pulled out on the first lap. That left Marty to try to hang on, which he wasn't in any condition to do. He ended up in a lot of trouble and could barely see by the last lap and had to be pushed by the other two just to finish. Hell, we might have even beat them after but that might be wishful thinking on my part. Our team was me, Nick Fletcher, Andrew Redmond (or Tully, possibly?) and Andrew Kelly. We lost Kelly on the first lap and Nick and I had to nurse the third man around for the next two laps.

UQ did get revenge two years later by winning in Brisbane. We got the silver with me mostly sitting behind the diminutive Roy Denoon and Dave and Graham hanging on for dear life. But we passed Robbie McEwen (Griffith Uni) who was dragging around two riders of, shall we say, lesser ability, and the dirty look he gave us was well worth it. It may have had something to do with the fact that Roy trumpeted like an elephant when we passed them.

For the record, we still won it in Perth ('92), Wollongong ('94) and Darwin ('95) but got done by Jono Hall and some ring-ins in Canberra ('96). I love the team time trial.

The way back

After a night where too much beer was barely enough, I was revived by Lucy and Pete's cooking and coffee (three of them, in fact). I discovered where I'd made the incorrect turn on the trip out and navigated to it on the way home. The dead end signs did not deter me. Google maps is always right, innit?

After a few km I saw a wall in front of me, and I realised the road was going straight up it. 15% average grade for about half a km took me up to Barbury Castle and the end of the (paved) road. I was buggered if was going to turn around so I set off on what was now a dirt track and quickly became very muddy. I asked two mountain bikers coming the other way if the road led anywhere, and they assured me it did end up near Marlborough, but I'd probably ruin my bike getting there. You can guess the rest.

6km and 45mins later, I emerged just north of Marlborough, somewhat muddy. Luckily it rained soon after so a lot of the mud was washed off.

It must have done some good as I was able to beat a couple of my hill times later in the week. Then I undid all the work by heading over to Belge for the Het Volk weekend. But that is another story.


Anonymous said...

Dunno if Red was in Mebourne. Suspect it was Tully. Tully was there in Armidale, I still remember you shouting at him to get his hands on the drops...

Was Paul Mahony in Melbourne? Blombery went that year.

Who came with me on the bus? That guy - umm from Berowra? Not chris Harris, the other guy. Not Ian Brandes... I'm pretty sure you travelled in Blombery's V6, including the umm, famous stop in Humula. Ahh yes - Red was there, after all. It all comes back. Red is now staff specialist or something in Brisbane. At least someone is doing what they thought they'd be doing in the early 90s.

IIRC Kelly's problem in Melbourne was that he managed to fell himself on some tram tracks and lost his nerve for the week. Shame.

The Robbie McEwen story is a goody - hadn't heard that before. Should we assume that he was, umm, somewhat below his anaerobic threshhold? Still, the two clowns he was dragging round have a great story to the kids...

unstoppable said...

I've made the same mistake by looking at the map and trying to get through via Barbury Castle... unfortunately I was in a car and it was 1 am in the morning so I gave up and turned back. Which route did you use to get from Oxford to Bath? Simon, Oxford

Jeff Jones said...

Josh: yeah it was Red. I'm surprised you remember, considering the amount of bourbon you drank that week :-) Nick Fletcher was the Berowra connection, so the full complement must have been you, me, Red, Kelly, Fletch, Blombery, Richard Pettigrew, Paul M(?), Chris Harris(??), possibly Ian Brandes. That's 10 anyway.

I do remember pushing Tully up the hill in Armidale the year before. Crikey.

I treasure the McEwen story, and I'm sure Dave/Graham/Roy will too. Where's our green jersey? After the uni games he went to the Bank race and won the sprinters jersey there, and the rest is history.

Simon: you were wise to turn back, as I don't think a car would have made it through the boggy bits. I had to walk quite often.

The route I took to Oxford was this one. As you can see, it wasn't the most direct route at Marlborough.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you know who is leaving my comments when I post as "Anonymous". It could be anyone. Hrrumph, as they used to say, in Pirates...

I knew Fletch was from Berowra - although he was more the other side of the river - Arcadia. Richard Pettigrew was the person I was thinking of. He was in Melbourne (on the bus). Tully was in Melbourne - he got a plane home, I now seem to recall.

There were only seven of us in Armidale, and that included the obvious four, Ian Brandes, Pettigrew (who drove the Commodore) and the other guy who was umm, a social rider - the guy who came last in the Rockvale Road Road Race (first prize that day was the Alliteration Cup). Not Dave - who when we first met him (second half of 1991) was coming from a touring background.

I was thinking Kevlah in Armidale -But then I didn't think we met him till about 1992 (by which time we were the SUCC, and amongst other things, we rode from town to town, we thought these cops were tops and our tools were allegedly Black & Decker. Umm...).

That (Armidale) was the Grannis and Siwka year, as well as Derek Walker and Erik the Viking from UNSW.

Erik remembered us best from when we'd tortured him up and down the now collapsed old Pacific Highway near Calga about 3 weeks earlier. That was the day we got a C-Grade bunch of 40 odd down to a nice workable group of 8 on the first climb (5km into the race). In C-Grade there's no "getting back on". Also the day we rode to and from the race, from Hawkesbury River station. I remember being rather weary by the time I got home, THAT day...

You can love the TTT all you like. I always hated them. Particularly Perth. Fighting to maintain 30 km/h on flat ground into the wind, and then coming back at 65 km/h is no fun. But riding on the smoother patch on the other side of the road? That was my idea. It was a tad dangerous, but hey.

The two person TT at Seaham was interesting though. Would have liked to do more of them.

The last thing is, Armidale and Perth (and I think all the others) were in the October break. For some crazy reason, the year it was in Melbourne, they put it on in July. Melbourne. July.

Still - the dank lowlands probably have you wishing you were in a climate as mild as Melbourne in July.

Jeff Jones said...

Hrrumph indeed. Here's a missive from the dank lowlands:

Brendan someone was the seventh in Armidale and I'm pretty sure Kevlah was there too, but maybe only as a driver. Who did Grannis and Siwka ride for? UWA?

Not sure who composed the song - we all had a hand in it, but Geoff Edwards certainly popularised it.

C grade at Calga. Now that was a while ago. Tactics? Go hard, early and often, just win. But we didn't quite.

The Perth TTT was hard because of that ridiculous wind. Dead flat, crap roads, barely got above 30 on the way out and barely got below 60 on the way back. And yes it was a good idea to ride on that bit of the road. Most of the other teams did. Philosophical constructs indeed.

I remember the protest was also about you motorpacing behind the team Suzuki - not to get back onto us, but to get back to the start. We did 3/4 of it with three riders.

Diggers Rest in July was bloody freezing. The road race was around a circuit near Gisborne and it was windy. It blew apart on the last hill and Fletch was sort of in the mix, ending 7th I believe.

A fun time was had by all.

Tully Richards said...

I was there in Armidale, and I still remember Dr Jones shouting at me to get my hands on the drops...

Sorry you had to push me up the hill Jeff! better then (75kgs) than now (110kgs)...clearly stopping the bike riding and now having three little ones has made some difference :)

Jeff Jones said...

Aha, well met Mr Richards! Last time I heard from you you were in Scotland. No longer, I guess?

Three little 'uns is good going, probably not the best for one's condition though. Josh can attest to that, although he's reasonably fit again now. You can tell how many I have by deduction, or induction if you prefer.

Don't worry, me yelling at you was for your own good. Crikey, I can't believe that was half a lifetime ago now...