It seems a long time ago that the first World Cup of the 2014 season took place down in Sydney, but now it’s time for World Cup number 2. The venue is the beautiful Lac d’Aigubelette at the foot of the Épine mountains, hosting a World Cup for the first time, indeed it is hosting it’s first FISA International regatta since the World Championships in 1997.
So, as usual, it’s time to look at the “runners-and-riders”
28 scullers. Aigubelette sees the season’s debut for the Olympic champion…Mahe Drysdale. The Kiwi has struggled to recapture the form he showed in London. Last year was one to forget for Mahe as he struggled with injuries. During the NZ summer he was beaten in the 1X by Hamish Bond, not once…but three times. No doubt he’s been putting in the hard miles in training and will be in better shape than 2013, but whether he’s at top race form remains to be seen.
Also making his season’s debut is last years silver medalist Angel Fournier Rodriguez from Cuba. The big Cuban earned a reputation for being “Mr Cool” at Chungju by drifting over the finish line in the final of the M1X and nearly being caught by Hacker. Speaking of the German, Hacker has made an impressive start to the season with a good silver medal at the European Championships.
But, it’s the Czech, Ondrej Synek who has been making all the running in the past couple of seasons. The World Champion is now the European Champion and is in the form of his life. It’s going to take something special to beat him this year.
Elsewhere the Azerbaijani M2X silver medalists from Belgrade, Aleksandar Aleksandrov and Boris Yotov, are racing in the singles as well as the double and they will be ones to watch. Aleksandrov especially is on the verge of breaking into the single sculler “big league” and Yotov, at just 18, is definitely “one-to watch”.
One of the most interesting entries is Julien Bahain. We are very familiar with Bahain in the red, white & blue of France. But Aigubelette sees his debut in a Maple Leaf shirt since he controversially quit the French team and joined the Canadians. It is somewhat ironic to see him making his debut for Canada racing in France.
Also racing is the legendary Olaf Tufte, who’s return to racing at Belgrade was relatively low-key with a 15th place finish. No doubt he will be getting faster as the season goes on but a “B” final would be a step forward for the Norwegian.
Another sculler in fine form is Roel Braas of Holland. The Dutchman withdrew from Belgrade but had a strong showing in Chengju where he finished 5th.
Noticeable by his absence is GB’s Olympic bronze medalist Alan Campbell but he is sitting out Aigubelette having just become a father….congratulations Alan! Campbell could only manage a disappointing 6th in Belgrade and is having to work hard to try and recapture his medal winning speed, Some people (myself included) are beginning to question whether the Ulsterman would be better suited to a crew boat….only time will tell.
So my selection…Synek for another gold with Hacker in silver and Braas in 3rd.
23 crews. A big entry with some intriguing entries. The world champions from Norway, Nils Jakob Hoff and Kjetil Borch suffered a surprise defeat to the Lithuanians (and indeed finished out of the medals altogether).They will, undoubtedly, be hungry for revenge.
There are some interesting entries from the Southern hemisphere. Most notable are the Argentinians Arial Suarez and Cristian Rosso. These two finished 4th at the Olympics and 5th at last year’s World Championships.
Both the Aussies and Kiwis have new doubles this year. Australia had James Mcrae and Alexander Belonogoff. McRae was in the Aussie quad that took bronze at the Olympics. He joins Belonogoff who raced the double last year with Thomas Swann which finished 8th.
The Kiwis have the Manson brothers Karl & Robbie. Robbie Manson raced this event last year with Michael Arms and was unbeaten throughout the World Cup campaign. However in Chungju they were a disappointing 6th. This year Robbie is with his kid brother Karl. In 2013 the younger Manson was part of the Kiwi quad that promised much, but only finished 14th at Chungju. It remains to be seen what sort of speed this new combination has.
As mentioned above the Azerbaijani double of Aleksandrov and Yotov are doubling up in the M1X as well and in the absence of the European champions they will be looking to move up one step on the podium.
Chasing them will be the European bronze medalists from Germany Stephan Krueger and Hans Gruhne.
Another intriguing couple of entries are the 2 Croatian boats. In the 1st boat are the Sinkovic brothers, world champions from the M4X they will be a formidable double. As will the 2nd Croatian boat containing fellow M4X world champion David Sain along with Mario Vekic who raced the 1X at the Olympics. It’ll be interesting to see if they continue in the double or switch back to the quad later in the year.
The British have two boats entered with John Collins and Jonny Walton as the lead boat. This combination were 6th in Belgrade but show a huge amount of potential. An “A” final finish would be another good result for them. The 2nd boat are ones to watch for the future, U23’s Jack Beaumont and Angus Groom are gaining their first senior international vests and it’ll be invaluable experience in the run up to the U23 World Championships this year. A “B” final finish would be a great result for them.
It’s a really open field and very difficult to pick the medalists….but if I’m pushed I’ll go for the Croatian 1st boat in gold with the Azerbaijanis in silver and the Argentinians in bronze.
17 crews. Watch out world here come the Kiwis…unbeaten for 5 years Bond and Murray are so dominant in this event that the discussion is all about who will win silver….and that is sometimes seen as a victory in itself. As mentioned above Bond spent the NZ summer racing in the 1X handing Drysdale 3 consecutive defeats. Bond also raced the M2- at the NZ champs with lightweight James Lassache and set the 2nd fastest time ever….the man is a freak!
So, it’s taken as read that the Kiwis will win the gold so what about the rest. Serbia pulled off a shock victory at the European Championships beating the favourites from the Netherlands. However the Serbian pair from Belgrade, Veselin Savic and Dusan Bobicevic are not racing at the World Cup. There place is taken by the regular Serbian M2- of Nikola Stojic and Nenad Bedik. This pairing were European Champions in 2013 and 9th at Chungju.
In the absence of the top two pairs from Belgrade the crew most likely to lead the charge are the Germans Bastian Bechler and Anton Braun, They were bronze medalists at Belgrade and both have silver medals from Chungju (Bechler from the M2+ and Braun from the M8).The Germans also have a 2nd boat entered with Peter Kluge and Alexander Egler making their senior debuts, both were silver medalists in the U23 M8 in 2012).
Also entering two boats are the British. The British have had a shake up since Belgrade and the M2- from the Europeans (Nathanial Reilly O’Donnell and Alan Sinclair) have moved into the M8. In their place are the GB1 boat of Matt Gotrel and Paul Bennett and the 2nd boat of Oliver Cook and Dan Ritchie (although I don’t expect this pair to race as they were not listed in the GB team sheet and are also entered in a 2nd M4-). The pairing of Gotrel and Bennett were 4th at the GB trials and Bennett was unlucky to miss the Europeans because of injury.
The French, Lauren Cadot and Valentin Onfroy were 7th at Belgrade and will be expecting to make the “A” final on home waters. Keep an eye out too for the Chinese, Yujie Shao and Jun Liu who are a bit of an unknown quantity.
My picks….the Kiwis (obviously) for gold a long, long, long way ahead with Germany 1 in silver closely followed by GB1 in bronze.
10 crews. The new GB four announced their arrival at Belgrade with a spectacular win, smashing the championship best time in the process. What was most impressive is that the crew of Andy Triggs Hodge, George Nash, Moe Sbihi and Alex Gregory were so dominant that they didn’t appear to be pushed at all and didn’t need to unleash any sort of sprint at all. They destroyed the Dutch world champions (who are not racing in Aigubelette) and finished almost 5 seconds clear of the Greeks.
But, the British look to have a bit more of a stern test at this World Cup with the Australians, Americans and Canadians all bring strong crews. The Americans especially will be wanting to rain on GB’s parade. They have the same line-up that finished 3rd at last year’s World Championships and were winners in Lucerne – Grant James, Seth Weil, Henrik Rummel and Mike Gennaro.
The Australians have almost as strong a tradition in this boat class as the British – with the “Oarsome Foursome” dominating the field in the 90’s until GB took over in 2000. This years crew has half of the World championship silver medal crew, Josh Dunkley-Smith and Spencer Turrin – joined by former U23 international Chris Cunningham-Reid and Fergus Pragnell who raced in the Aussie M8 in 2011.
The Canadians have made one change to the line-up that were a disappointing 14th at Chungju. Kai Langerfeld replaces Will Dean. Langerfeld has a world championship bronze in the M2+ from 2012 and his crew mates (Will Crothers, Rob Gibson and Conlin McCabe) were all in the silver medal Olympic M8 in London. For some reason as a 4- they didn’t click last year but with such a talented line up they can’t be discounted.
Watch out also for a 2nd GB 4- of Oli Cook and Phil Congdon (who raced in the M8 at Belgrade) joined by 2 M8 World champions returning from injury; Dan Ritchie and Tom Ransley. This is a talented line up and could well be pushing for a bronze medal. The other crew to watch out for are the Germans (Bjoern Birkner, Toni Seifert, Max Munski and Kristof Wilke) who were 5th in Belgrade.
My picks…GB for gold by a length from the Americans with Australia just ahead of GB2 for bronze.
10 crews. The European champions from Ukraine are not racing in Aigubelette and neither are the World Champions from Croatia, so the gold looks to be a battle between the European silver medalists from GB (Graeme Thomas, Sam Townsend, Charlie Cousins and Pete Lambert) and the bronze medalists from Germany (Karl Schulze, Kai Fuhrmann, Philipp Wende and Tim Grohmann). I expect these two crews to be well clear of the rest of the field with the Poles, Estonian’s and Czechs leading the chase for bronze (they were 5th, 6th & 7th in Belgrade).
The Kiwis have a talented line-up with Jade Uru, John Storey, Nathan Flannery and Chris Harris but the “Oar-Blacks” have yet to find a combination that really flies in this boat class….if they do they could become real contenders. The Chinese crew are a relatively known quantity (for the Chinese) with Jian Ma and Quan Zhang out of the M8 which raced the Sydney World Cup and Zihyu Liu from the silver medal quad at the first World Cup.
My picks…I’m going for GB just to get their bow ball in front of the Germans with the Poles in bronze some way back.
7 crews. The big story in this event is who is missing….no Germany….apparently the reigining Olympic Champions “Nach der Europameisterschaft in Belgrad hatten wir ein paar Ausfälle” or “After the European Championships in Belgrade we had a few failures”….so they are staying at home to concentrate on the Lucerne World Cup. The European silver medalists, Mike Spracklen’s exciting new Russian 8 are also absent, leaving the race open for what will likely be a 2-way battle for gold between GB and the USA. The British are the reigning world champions but have a very different line up to Chungju. Indeed the British have re-jigged their line-up from Belgrade with Noddy and Alan Sinclair moving from the Belgrade M2- and Matt Langridge returning after a bad back injury to the boat in which he won an Olympic bronze medal. This, undoubtedly will be a faster line-up than the Belgrade version.
The Americans love the M8….for many stateside its the only boat that matters. This year’s crew has 7 of the bronze medalists from last year with 2012 U23 World Champion Rob Munn and Matt Miller joining the US’s flagship boat.
The Poles have kept a pretty consistent line up for a number of years and finished 4th in Belgrade. But they are an inconsistent crew, at their best they can challenge for a medal but they can also put in relatively lackluster performances – At Henley last year they were destroyed by the University of Washington and at Duisberg this year they finished less than 1 length ahead of the Oxford Brookes University 1st 8).
Keep an eye out for the French as well. They have a strong line up that includes the Olympic silver medal pair of Germain Chardin and Dorian Mortelette but they could only finish 5th in Belgrade – this could be another crew that, if they get it right, could challenge for the medals.
It’s great to see an Iranian men’s 8 competing (for only the 2nd time ever at a senior world FISA event I believe) There are one or two commentators nightmare names to deal with in that crew though…the Karbalaygolizadeh brothers for a start!
My picks…..I think the US will take it by about half a length from the British with the Poles in 3rd.
I’ll publish my preview of the Women’s and lightweight events later….watch this space…