Record Breaking Varsity Triathlon
Benjamin Franklin’s assertions on life’s certainties (see BUCS Sprint race report) clearly failed to account for the existence of coach companies. On Sunday 14th May, our 5am meeting time for Varsity Triathlon came and went, and the vehicle on which our fifty-strong team had planned to travel remained elusive. Half an hour of logistical discussion, five cars and one taxi later, we were finally on the road to meet our minty green counterparts at Emberton Park, Milton Keynes. Perhaps not the optimal race preparation, but the athletes of OUTriC were not to be deterred.
In the lead up to the race, training and tapering had varied among the Oxford competitors. At the professional end of the spectrum Sophia Saller’s pre-race routine included a boozy swimming club dinner and two hours of sleep, and 2016 Varsity winner Laura Fenwick was looking forward to finally being on the start line of a club race this season, despite the best efforts of the Exeter-Hertford playing fields to sabotage her through injury. Meanwhile, Secretary Tom Stewart made no secret of his race plan to use the swim and bike as an extended warm up in order to try and beat Tom Lewin’s run time.
As the race got underway, Lewin’s hatred for company in the swim quickly became evident once again. Over the course of the 750m lake swim he pulled (and kicked) out a fifteen second lead over his main rival “Giant Tab”, who was followed in turn by the usual suspects – Sophia, Lucy, Laura and Pietro - all blissfully unaware of the fight ensuing behind. No one was more in the midst of the violence than Joe Bowness, whose excellent first split came at the cost of a fat lip courtesy of an as yet unidentified athlete. Iona Richards put in a characteristically strong performance in her favourite of the three disciplines to exit the water fourth in the women’s race and continue the recent tradition of OUTriC women dominating the front of the Varsity swim. Club coach George Edwards spent the entire swim in shock that training actually makes you faster, whilst newly crowned marathon Half-Blue Fergus Cumming experienced the opposite effect. At the end of phase one Oxford were comfortably in command at the top of both the men’s and women’s races with the well-established Twitter hashtag #wherearethetabs seeming more relevant than ever.
T1 brought its usual share of entertainment and varying degrees of urgency. Sam Skillcorn suffered spectator heckling for his bike mounting technique, meanwhile George took so long that he might as well have stopped for a cup of his favourite Yorkshire Tea. After less than glowing reviews in previous reports, it only seems fair to congratulate James Walker on his transition efforts on this occasion. A cumulative 61 seconds for T1 and T2 made him, Laura and Lucy the joint-fastest transitioners in the whole race.
The main story of the bike revolved around BUCS star David Pearson, who suffered an unfortunate crash early on. Battered, bruised and with a flat tyre, David’s heroic (and perhaps medically ill-advised) determination to finish the race carried him through to a highly commendable seconds team place. Things became quite predictable at the front of the race as Tom was streaking (not literally, much to the dismay of Matt Cunningham) ahead of the pack with Giant Tab and James in his wake. Not far behind, Alex Bradley moved himself through the field by cycling over a minute quicker than anyone else, and in the process put himself nicely in contention for the third spot in the men’s Blues team. By this point the women’s race looked even more dark blue than the men’s, as Sophia “do you want one of my autograph cards?” Saller led the way with an incredibly impressive ride, ahead of #teamLF – Lucy and then Laura. In the middle of the pack, Women’s Captain-elect Lizzie Sandham was well on her way to taking over ten minutes off of her effort from last year as she managed to mount on the correct side of the line, and Charlotte Kirk’s Ironman Wales training meant she probably could have carried on all day. As the bike section came to a close, Oxford continued to be literally streets ahead in all categories.
With the top three positions for each sex all but decided at this point, the real excitement on the run came further down the order. Joe Bowness, still sporting war wounds from the swim (albeit somewhat less serious than teammate David’s from the bike) excelled on his strongest discipline to come home fourth Oxford male, and Joe Kidson had the race of his OUTriC career to turn his ambitious Portuguese-sunshine-inspired seconds team dream into a glorious reality. BUCS rivals Alex Barbaro and Ali Nicklin yet again locked horns, with Alex taking the victory this time thanks to a superior run and Ali’s pedestrian transitions (likely cause – too busy looking at Garmin). Tom Stewart’s race plan took shape perfectly as he hit the run course at exactly the same time as namesake Lewin began his second lap of honour. This allowed Stewart to accelerate and take the lead cyclist with him, denying Lewin that all important draft and claiming victory on the run split. As Stewart headed off for lap two, Lewin came home to break the (imaginary) finishing tape as he successfully defended his 2016 Varsity title, but this time went one better in securing himself a Full Blue.
On the women’s side Sophia, Lucy and Laura wrapped up a dominant 1-2-3, whilst Renee Haver, with her fine fourth place secured, embraced the OUTriC spirit to the full as she became more concerned about cheering on her teammates and looking good in the race photos than getting a faster time. All of her positive spirit, however, couldn’t stop her from being overtaken just before the line by fellow chemist Aubert Ribaucourt, who had driven all the way from France to attend Varsity (and his comparatively insignificant DPhil viva a couple of days later). Katie Truslove, one of OUTriC’s many ex-cross country stars, came through strongly in the latter stages of the race to take fifth female and deny any Cambridge presence in the women’s individual top five. Iona Richards and Suzanne Scott closed the women’s seconds, and a few places back Alice Gooda wasn’t the first training camp attendee to enjoy the fruits of her hard work over Easter with a strong performance in her first Varsity Triathlon.
Special mention should also go to Seamus Kent and Christian Ruckteschler, who got so carried away with racing each other that they managed to complete only one lap of the two lap run course, apparently unaware that 11 minutes for 5.3km wasn’t a hugely realistic result. Despite insisting before the race that her first triathlon would also be her last, Erika Lam finished the race equally adamant that she would be racing again, and that next time she would run much faster – one of many triathlon first-timers to catch the racing bug after Varsity.
Almost as quickly as Mike made it to the pub, another Varsity Triathlon was over and all of last year’s records were broken again. Going one up on 2016, OUTriC won all of the Varsity categories on offer, and in claiming both Blues match victories for the third year in succession Oxford now take the lead in the overall Blues standings for the first time since the inaugural event in 2003 (was 14-14, now 16-14).
To name a few more, 2017 saw the most OUTriathletes at Varsity ever (47), the biggest Oxford women’s team ever (26, doubling the previous best), the OUTriC Women’s Blues beating the Cambridge Men’s Blues (unheard of), six Oxford men’s teams beating the Cambridge’s seconds (up from five last year), and the list goes on…
The 2016-17 season certainly hasn’t all been plain sailing. We have overcome coach disasters, coaching disasters, kit disasters and more to finish the year with OUTriC in a stronger position than ever before – these achievements being testament to the hard work put in by Laura and everyone else involved. Bring on Varsity 2018.
Sam Skillcorn / Laura Fenwick