Rowing: Leander meander takes Tideway

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LEANDER Club, with a crew powered by World and Olympic gold medallists, took the Tideway Head of the River Race yesterday at a canter. With Matthew Pinsent in the stroke seat and Ben Hunt Davis setting a curiously different rate from number two, Leander led off the 420 starters and stripped 24 seconds off London University, starting second. The hardest challenge came from the London Rowing Club lightweights who raced with a higher rate of strokes but an easier rhythm and finished in second place 11 seconds behind.

Leander is the base from which most of the men's national squad train and Jurgen Grobler, the men's chief coach, naturally has the pick of the ambitious oarsmen who want to be noticed for national selection. That Leander is challenged so hard by London rather implies good news for lightweights than a poor response from the open weights, but three lengths is a small margin over the distance.

The two best student clubs, apart from those involved in next week's Boat Race, finished third and fourth with Queen's Tower, a convenience title for Imperial College, moving up from 15th to beat Oxford Brookes by five seconds. Immediately behind them Nottinghamshire County took fifth and sixth, putting 16 oarsmen within the top 10 places, a feat matched only by Leander with their second crew in 10th place.

Molesey moved up from 20th to eighth and might have gone higher but for the loss of Jonny Searle, out with a sprung rib, a revamp of the crew to put Greg Searle, the world bronze medalist in single sculls, at stroke and making Richard Stanhope change sides. Moseley is the only club to have raced both Oxford and Cambridge in training fixtures and finished about 18 seconds down to both over 13 minutes, which suggests both Boat Race crews would have been racing among the leaders to win the Tideway head.

SC Zurich finished 11th, three places down on their start but still ahead of RV Gmunden of Austria, who finished their four and a half mile race at 40 strokes to the minute to rise from 133 to 13th. SC Grasshopper also travelled from Zurich and had all but completed the course when they misheard warnings from the marshal at the Black Buoy at the top of the Putney embankment and lost two blades and two riggers for their ignorance. But worse befell Agecroft, which competes here annually, drifting off-course after the warning and hitting the buoy head-on, breaking off the bow section of the shell before swinging across the line.

The Oxford and Cambridge Women's Boat Race will start at Henley at 2.30 this afternoon as one of a slate of races with both lightweights and men involved. Like the men's race the women's has been dominated by Light Blue and while there has been a sharp improvement in Oxford performances all round this year, the women's lightweights are the most likely to break back.