Bitter and Twisted Oxford plot Boat Race revenge

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The Independent Online

Last year's stop-and-restart Boat Race left a sour taste in the mouths of Oxford University Boat Club. As Cambridge's oarsmen lifted the Aberdeen Asset Management Boat Race Trophy, the Dark Blues swore revenge. Yesterday at the Oxford trial eights race on a cold grey Thames in London, the aptly-named 'Bitter' beat 'Twisted', giving notice that their long campaign towards 30 March 2002 is well under way.

In calm, fast conditions, umpired by experienced ex-Cambridge blue Simon Harris, the two crews battled over the first mile, until Bitter moved ahead, leading Twisted home by a margin of eight seconds in 18:32 minutes. Earlier in the week Bitter's greater speed had given the Oxford coaching team, seeking matched crews, headaches. Switching Nicholas Tuppen out of Twisted for the stronger Basil Dixon had somewhat evened the chances, until Bitter took the favoured Surrey station on the toss.

Twisted, led by President Ben Burch and steered by Isis 2000 cox Pete Hackworth, dashed off hard in centre stream to maximise their first-bend advantage. As a clash loomed, they were rapidly warned back to Middlesex and began to lose ground. Robin Bourne-Taylor, stroke of the 2000 Oxford Blue Boat, set a stronger rhythm for Bitter, who held their finishes well in the flurry of strokes off the start, and settled earlier than their rivals to a lower rate as they pulled half a length ahead.

At the Fulham Football Ground, Twisted pushed with great effect, but as their bend ran out, Bitter's better rhythm and pace began to tell. Cox Acer Nethercott was able to take Twisted's water, and after enduring a scrappy minute in the bouncy swell along the Harrod's wall, Bitter's stroke-length improved. Dropping the rate to 32, they relaxed and steadily inched away, despite everything Burch's determined crew could do to fight back.

Coach Sean Bowden hopes the clean victory will set a standard for next year's Boat Race crews. "It isn't in the crews' interests to crash into each other," he said. "It's our responsibility to instruct our crews not to take the most aggressive line."

Bowden is still tinkering to find the right combination of eight from the 11 or 12 oarsmen in contention for the top crew. Oxford now go cross-training at a Nordic skiing camp in Davos, while Cambridge prepare for their own trials race next Wednesday.