Oxford out to nullify Cambridge’s home advantage as Boat Race heads to Ely

Cambridge University Boat Club women’s crew train on the River Great Ouse near Ely
Cambridge University Boat Club women’s crew train on the River Great Ouse near Ely (PA Wire)
14:49pm, Thu 25 Mar 2021
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Oxford men’s chief coach Sean Bowden is quietly confident his squad can nullify any home advantage when they face Cambridge in the 2021 Boat Race on the Great Ouse.

This year’s race will be staged in Ely, Cambridgeshire for the first time since 1944, taking place on Easter Sunday.

The annual contest was switched from the Thames because of the challenges posed by coronavirus restrictions and uncertainty over the safety of Hammersmith Bridge.

When the event was last staged in 2019 Cambridge University completed a second successive whitewash for the men’s and women’s crews, as well as claiming both reserve races.

Bowden took over as chief coach of the Dark Blues in 1997 and has helped guide Oxford to 12 victories, including three in a row up to 2015.

“Nobody likes losing and confidence is often something which is built up very specifically within a group of people,” Bowden said at the 2021 Gemini Boat Race crew announcement.

“We had a good year last year and were certainly very much looking forward to it, unfortunately for everybody it was cancelled.

The GemCambridge University Boat Club women’s crew train on the river Great Ouse near Elyini Boat Race 2021 – Cambridge Crew Training – March 24th (PA Wire)

“Confidence is something you derive mostly from what you see internally within your own programme and the progress people have made, the speeds that you produce on the water.

“Without knowing the strength of the opposition it is always difficult to get the confidence exactly right, but the way people approach sport is to factor in the opposition will be really good and extremely well prepared.

“Obviously in our race, they are on home water, so as long as we are ready, I think the confidence comes from our own preparation.”

The race on Easter Sunday is set to be a ‘closed event’.

The remoteness of the Fenland location was one of the factors for organisers, who have had to follow strict protocols to comply with Covid-19 restrictions which will see the squads go into bubbles ahead of their final preparations.

Both races will be umpired by women, with Sarah Winckless the first female to take charge of the men’s event, which is in its 166th running.

The course will be over 4.89 kilometres, starting just north of the Prickwillow Road bridge and finishing ahead of the Victoria Street bridge at Littleport.

Ely is the location of the Cambridge University boathouse, but Bowden is not concerned about trying to overcome any local knowledge.

“You have to think it must offer some (advantage) – if Cambridge came down to race on our river, we would like to think we would have some greater feel for the conditions and the landmarks,” he said.

“How significant, I don’t know, so we just have to double up on the other stuff to make sure that doesn’t become a big factor.

“At least it is not a tricky river to steer, we are not looking at lots of local knowledge of going around corners and under different bridges or trees which stick out.

“I think from that point of view, it is relatively straightforward.”

Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club president Sophie Paine (PA Wire)

Cambridge may again be perceived as favourites, but women’s president Sophie Paine is determined there will be no complacency.

Paine told the PA news agency: “I don’t think having it in Ely detracts from the history and importance of the race, it is still going to be just as important.

“We are all geared up and ready to go.

“It is just a mental advantage (to race in Ely), the course is completely fair and straight.”

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