World Rowing Cup II – Varese – A boat by boat preview

It’s nearly time for the 2nd Rowing World Cup on the beautiful Lake Varese course at the foot of the Campo di Fiori Mountains an hour north of Milan. Host to last year’s U23 World Championships; it has attracted a fantastic line-up with almost all of the “big” players in attendance. It’s the first time that the Aussies, Kiwis, Canadians and Americans will be in action and, after a very exciting European Championships, offers a first chance to compare the best in Europe with the best of the rest of the world.

Lake Varese

So, as usual I’ll preview each boat class with ones to watch and give my picks for the medals…

M1X

35 scullers

A massive field of 35 take to the water. It’s a truly world class field with all of the main players involved. It offers the first chance to see what sort of form Mahe Drysdale is in. The Kiwi won the 2nd and 3rd world Cups last year and then finished runner-up to Ondrej Synek at the worlds in Amsterdam. But so far this season Synek’s not had it all his own way. His first outing in Poznan at the European Championships ended in defeat, comprehensively beaten by Croatia’s Damir Martin. The Croatian has made a big impact on the M1X scene following a year out with injury.  So far this season he has gold and silver from the Europeans and the 1st World Cup respectively. In Bled he was beaten by Cuba’s Angel Fournier Rodriguez. The big Cuban is an exciting, if somewhat laidback, sculler who has always been “there or thereabouts” medalling every time he’s raced since the end of 2011 (with the exception of the Olympics where he missed the “A” final). Bled was his first gold medal and this season could be the year he moves up to the top of the podium.

Another sculler returning to competition is Great Britain’s Alan Campbell.

Campbell

The Olympic bronze medalist at a miserable 2014 with his form deserting him slumping to a 14th place at the Lucerne World Cup – his worst performance since 2004 – which resulted in him being dropped for the World Championships. He’s worked hard to recapture his form but he has been dogged by niggling injuries at the start of the season meaning he missed the GB Trials and the European Championships. Varese offers him the first chance to race since Lucerne last year and he’ll be champing at the bit.

Olaf Tufte is also making strong progress on his comeback trail towards Rio. The European Championships saw him take his first medal (a bronze) since the 2nd World Cup in 2010. The field in Varese might be a bit too strong to see him repeat a medal but a strong “A” final finish will be another big step towards peaking in Brazil.

I think these 6 will be the “A” finalists but there are some exciting sculler’s pushing just behind these “big 6”. Stanislau Shcharbachenia of Belarus won the “B” final in Poznan following a similar result at the world’s last year. One of the most exciting young sculler’s is Poland’s Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk, the 6ft 8 20 year-old is the current U23 M1X silver medalist. He’s currently a freshman at the University of California and has been occupying the critical 7 seat in the Cal Bears Varsity 8 that finished 2nd at the IRA Championships. It remains to be seen if his focus on sweep rowing this season has affected his performance in the single.

Another young sculler to watch out for is the GB2 boat, Jack Beaumont. He subbed into the GB M4X at the European’s and won a bronze medal. A mid-place “B” final placing would be a great result (and the internal battle with Campbell will also be very interesting).

As mentioned above, Varese see’s the first appearance of the Canadian squad. Last year the Canucks single sculler was Julien Bahain, he has swapped seats with Pascal Lussier who raced in the quad last year which won the “B” final in Amsterdam.

My picks….tough, very tough but I’m going to plump for a 1,2,3 of Drysdale, Martin and Fournier Rodriguez (with Synek, Campbell and Tufte rounding off the “A” final).

M2X

23 crews

Another big field, and another mouth-watering clash in prospect. The stand-out crew in this event last year were the Sinkovic brothers.

Sinkovic

Since moving out of the Quad they have totally dominated the M2X event, becoming the first crew to break 6 minutes at the World Championships last year. They had been slated to race both the first world cup and the European championships, but injury kept them off the water until just before the start of the Euro’s.  In their absence it’s been the new German pairing of Marcel Hacker and Stephan Kreuger who have been dominating proceedings winning in Bled and Poznan. Their first showdown with the Croatians could be very exciting – it remains to see how “race-ready” the Croatians are.

But, it’s not just about the Europeans. The Australians, James McRae and Alex Belonogoff were bronze medallists last year and also medalled at both the 2nd and 3rd World Cups.  McRae is a very experienced sculler with an Olympic bronze medal to his name from the 2012 M4X.

Last year’s NZ double of Robbie and Karl Manson were a little disappointing compared to Kiwi doubles of the past few years, missing out on the “A” final at last year’s World Championships. This year Robbie is partnered by Chris  Harris who raced in the NZ M4X last year and in the M4- at the Olympics. The Kiwis have a stated intention of qualifying all 14 boats for the Olympics so Varese will be the first chance to see the sort of speed their crew boats have and at the moment this double is a bit of an unknown quantity.

The Italians didn’t race at the Europeans, they were focussing on training for this World Cup on home waters. Their double of Romano Battisti and Francesco Fossi were runners-up to the Croatians last year and were the 2103 European Champions. Battisti was in the M2X that took silver in London 2012 and Fossi was in the Italian Quad that made the Olympic “A” final.  They will, perhaps, present the biggest challenge to the Germans and Croatians.

Norway’s 2013 World Champion double of Nils Jakob Hoff and Kjetil Borch finished just outside of the medals in Poznan and will be hoping for a better year than 2014 where they ended up in the middle of the “B” final in Amsterdam.  An “A” final finish for them in such a high quality field will be a step in the right direction.

The problem with the British double of John Collins and Jon Walton appears to be one of consistency. At the European Championships they showed excellent speed in dominating their heat, but when it came to the semi they were outpaced and just missed out on an “A” final place. In the “B” final they could only manage a 2nd place, giving them 8th overall. They undoubtedly have the raw speed to mix it with the very best but seemingly struggle to deliver that speed consistently. They will also come under pressure from the young British scullers Jack Beaumont and especially Angus Groom…..if the current double underperforms in Varese it wouldn’t surprise me to see some new combinations tried at Henley and Lucerne.

The final crews to mention are the Argentineans, Bulgarians and the US. Rodrigo Murillo and Cristian Rosso for Argentina are a new combination for this year. Rosso is very experienced in this event, finishing 4th at the Olympics with partner Ariel Suarez. That combination were disappointing last year only managing 17th, but with new partner Murillo, they will be hoping to be back at the “business-end” of racing.

The Bulgarian pairing of Georgi Bozhilov and Kristian Vasilev are an exciting combination and so far this season has a 4th in Bled and 5th in Poznan. An “A final finish will be a good result for them in Varese.

The US duo John Graves and Benjamin Dann have also a lot of experience racing together finishing 10th in 2013 in the M2X and 8th in the M4X last year. I think an “A final spot may be a step too far for them but if they should miss out then I’d expect them to be near the front of the “B” final.

My picks…Croatia in gold with Germany in silver and Italy in bronze

M2-

16 crews.

There is a Kiwi pair racing in Varese but it’s not the Kiwi pair. Murray and Bond have decided to stay at home a little longer and benefit from training and time with the family. They will join the rest of the NZ squad in time for the Lucerne World Cup. In their absence it falls to the New Zealand spares, Patrick McInnes and Alex Dickinson to fly the flag for the Oar-Blacks.

With the absence of Murray and Bond, who overshadow this event like Colossuses, it’s likely to be the British, James Foad and Matt Langridge who start as favourites. The World Championship silver medallists were comfortable winners in Poznan (despite a late crab from Langridge) they handed the French Olympic silver medallists a big defeat. With the French not racing in Varese it looks like the British “should” have a comfortable win.

Foad & Langridge

The most interesting combination are the Dutch. Mitchel Steenman’s regular partner, Rogier Blink, has injured his back and may well miss the rest of the season. In his place comes Roel Braas. Braas has been racing in the M1X but has had a difficult time in the past few months. The Dutch coaches are hoping that moving to a sweep boat will be a good change for him. They have the potential to be a very exciting combination.

The British have a 2nd boat entered with world champion Matt Tarrant joined by Callum McBrierty making his first senior appearance following a 4th place in the U23 M4+ last year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them take an “A” final place.

The Germans have also entered two boats. Toni Seifert and Kristof Wilke were slated to race in Poznan but pulled out. They were both part of the M4- last year that finished 8th. The 2nd German pair of Peter Kluge and Alexander Egler were the coxed pair in Amsterdam and took the bronze medal.

The Australians have selected a young pairing of Jack Hargreaves and Nick Wheatley.  These two are the U23 silver medallists and are making the step up to the senior team. It’s a mark of how the Kiwis overshadow this event that most of the “big” rowing nations are prioritising other boats or using this as a “development” boat with Tokyo in mind (hoping that Murray and Bond retire after Rio!)

The name Abbagnale is synonymous with pairs rowing in Italy and the next generation of Abbagnale’s are taking up the mantel. Vincenzo Abbagnale is the son of double Olympic gold medallist  Giuseppe. Abbagnale junior is already making his mark with two U23 gold medals and a senior gold medal in the M2+ from 2013. His partner, Giovanni Abagnale, (no relation) also hails from the city of Naples and was part of the U23 M4- that won gold in 2014.

The final crew to mention are the Czechs, Jakub Podrazil and Lukas Helesic, 4th in Poznan and certainly capable of challenging for a medal in Varese.

My picks….GB for gold with the Italians in silver and the Dutch in bronze.

M4X

13 crews.

Both the world and European champions, Ukraine and Russia, are missing from Varese. In their absence it’s likely that the British will be among the favourites. They are still missing Charlie Cousins who has recovered from injury but is not yet “race-fit”. At Poznan his place was filled by Jack Beaumont and they took bronze, for Varese it’s Angus Groom who takes his place. Groom had a fantastic regatta at the European Championships finishing a superb 4th in the M1X. It’s going to be very exciting to see him race the quad and they will undoubtedly be a little faster than in Poznan.

The Aussies will also be one of the hot favourites in Varese, their crew of David Crawshay, Cameron Girdlestone, Karsten Forsterling and David Watts, are a new combination but have a wealth of experience. Crawshay is a double Olympian and was a gold medalist in the M2X back in 2008. Fosterling was in the quad that won the world Championships back in 2011. They will definitely be giving the British a hard time.

The Canadian’s are focussing on the M4- and M4X for this Olympiad and the quad looks an exciting combination.  Matt Buie and Will Dean were in the crew that finished 7th last year. This year they are joined by Julien Bahain (an Olympic bronze medallist in this boat class) and Rob Gibson who spent 2014 in the M4-. This is a good-looking combination and there are high expectations on them to perform well.

The Kiwis have also put together a new quad and the big story here is the return of George Bridgewater, the 2008 Olympic bronze medallist retired after the Beijing Olympics but took the decision last year to try and make a comeback. His first target has been achieved; he’s won a seat in the squad. He’s joined by Jade Uru and John Storey who were part of the quad last year that finished a slightly disappointing 12th, and Karl Manson who moves out of the 2014 M2X.

The Poles,  Mateusz Biksup, Dariusz Radosz, Mirolsaw Zietarski and Wiktor Chabel, were 4th in Poznan and will be looking for a similar result in Varese.

The Swiss were a little disappointing in Poznan. They are the reigning U23 world champions and are a very exciting crew to watch. They will be hoping to improve on their performance in Poznan and make the “A” final in Varese.

The final two crews to mention are the Germans and Chinese. The Germans were winners in Bled but the field wasn’t particularly strong, at the Europeans they finished 6th and an “A” final finish in Varese would be a strong result for them. The Chinese finished 3 seconds behind the Germans n Bled and may find the competition a lot harder in Varese.

My picks….GB for the win ahead of the Australians with the Canadians in 3rd.

M4-

12 crews

The USA has this as their no.1 boat and there are high expectations on their crew of Glenn Ochal, Charlie Coles, Henrik Rummel and Seth Weil to deliver a winning performance.  This is 3 of the crew that took bronze at the London Olympics with Seth Weil replacing Scott Gault from that crew. Weil and Rummel were in the 2014 M4- that finished runners up to the British in Amsterdam. This boat has a massive amount of potential and will definitely be starting as favourites.

The British are no slouches though. The defending Olympic and world Champions have a new line-up from 2014. Nathaniel Reilly-O’Donnell and Tom Ransley are out of the World Championship winning M8 and Al Sinclair and Scott Durant won silver behind the Kiwis in the coxed pair last year. They made a very strong start to their 2015 campaign with a comfortable win at the European Championships, but the field in Varese is considerably stronger.

The Australians have, like the US, made the M4- their priority boat for 2015. Will Lockwood is the only surviving member of the 2012 silver medal crew but Spencer Turrin and Alex Lloyd joined Lockwood in 2013 to take another silver behind the Dutch.

Another nation prioritising the M4- are the Canadians. They have made one change to the crew that finished 5th last year with Tim Schrijver stepping up from the U23’s to replace Rob Gibson. This is a crew with a huge amount of firepower, Conlin McCabe became only the 4th man to officially go below 5:40 for a 2K ergo a couple of weeks ago and he is a multiple Olympic medallist. But so far this Canadian crew have not delivered the sort of results they are capable of. If they get it right they could be serious contenders for the gold, but so far when they have raced they haven’t fired.

Belarus have the same line-up that finished 3rd at the Europeans and won gold in a depleted field at Bled. A solid “A” final placing will be a good result for them in this strong field.

The Kiwi boat, George Howard, Alex Bardoul, Robert Kells and Anthony Allen, are an exciting new combination. Only Kells remains from the crew that finished 13th in 2013. The rest of the crew are all U23 medallists making their senior debuts. This is very much a development boat with the target of a top 11 spot at the World Championships and the4 all important Olympic qualification spot.

The other boat to watch out for are the Italians; they have the 7th place coxless pair from last year’s Worlds, Marco Di Costanzo and Matteo Castaldo along with multiple U23 medallists Matteo Lodo and Giuseppe Vicino.

My picks….It’s going to be fierce at the front but I’m going for the USA in gold, Australia in silver and the British in bronze.

M8

10 crews

Round 2 for the 2015 showdown between the British and the Germans. Round 1 went emphatically to the Germans with a win at the European championships. The British had a very mixed regatta in Poznan with a disastrous heat followed by a superb rep and a solid final. I fully expect them to step up a gear again in Varese and put the Germans under intense pressure.

The US may be prioritising the M4- but they do love their M8. They have 5 of the crew that finished 4th last year (Munn, Dethlefs, Dommer, Miller & Hack) joined by Tom Peszek from the 2013 M8, Mike Gennaro from the 2014 M4- and Alex Karwoski who raced in the M2X last year. This is a strong boat that will be looking to muscle in on the German/British battle.

The Poles have been racing the 8 with a settled line-up for a number of years and on their day they can challenge for the medals.  They were pushed out of the medals in Poznan by a strong Russian boat but in their absence they will be pushing the Americans for that final podium place.

One of the boats I’m most looking forward to watching is the young Kiwi crew. They have made one change from the line-up that won the U23 world championships (George Howard has moved to the M4- and been replaced by Michael Brake from the silver medal U23 M4+) They recently raced the Windermere Cup in Seattle defeating the University of Washington (as the British did in 2014). Their challenge will be to finish in the top 5 at the world Championships to gain the automatic Olympic qualification berth. Varese is the first time they will have been able to test their speed against the best in the world. If they can make the “A” final in such a strong field it will be a big step towards achieving that goal.

For the Kiwis to achieve that “A” final placing one of the crews they will need to benchmark themselves against are the French. Their line-up has been weakened slightly from last year with Germain Chardin and Dorian Mortelette returning to the pair (although they don’t race in Varese). The revised crew finished out of the medals in Poznan and will be looking for a solid “A” final finish as a step forward towards the world championships on home water. I have a feeling they will be having a big battle with the Kiwis to secure that “A” final place.

Elsewhere the Italians have entered two boats with their “A” crew also doubling up in the M4-. Their “B” crew are the U23 8. The Germans have also entered a second crew of U23’s and it’ll be an interesting little side contest between these two for bragging rights ahead of the U23 championships.

My picks….it pains me to say it but I’m going to pick Germany for gold but only by a whisker ahead of the British with the Americans in bronze

Now onto the women’s events…..

W1X

24 scullers

The overwhelming favourite here is Kim Crow. The Aussie world silver medallist played second-fiddle to Emma Twigg in 2014 but with Twigg’s absence this year she’ll be looking to capitalise and take the world championship gold and I certainly wouldn’t bet against her taking the gold in Varese.

Crowe

Behind Crow it’ll be an interesting battle for the lesser medals. Fiona Bourke has been handed the NZ W1X slot in Twigg’s absence. The world W2X gold medallist was visibly upset at the team announcement and she has voiced her disappointment at losing her seat in the W2X and is, to all intents and purposes, keeping the seat warm for Twigg. She has the unenviable task of qualifying the boat for the Olympics only for it to be taken from her when Twigg returns to the NZ camp next season.  It remains to be seen how she responds on the water, she’s a professional athlete and I’m positive she’ll be trying to give Crow as tough a time as possible….and also sending a message to the selectors and Twigg that she’s not going to give up the seat without a fight (I can envisage a race off in early 2016 between Bourke and Twigg as there was between Drysdale and Waddell in 2008)

Tatsiana Kukhta of Balarus has had a great start to the 2015 season. She’s been on the circuit for a number of years but this is her first season in the single.  So far she has two bronze medals and is establishing herself as one to watch this year.

One of the surprise performances at the Europeans was from Switzerland’s Jeanine Gmelin. She took the silver medal behind Knapkova (who is not racing in Varese), her first medal at a senior championships.  She may find the competition in Varese a little tougher but an “A” final finish will be a good way to reinforce her performance at the Europeans.

One of the biggest threats to Crow is China’s Jingli Duan. She was consistently among the medals last year culminating in a bronze medal at the world Championships. I’d be surprised if she doesn’t continue that trend in Varese.

Magdalena Lognig of Austria moved into the single scull in 2013 and has not failed to make an “A” final every time she’s raced; she is definitely one of the most consistent racers on the circuit. 5th at the first World Cup she will be hoping to repeat the medal winning performance she delivered at this stage last year.

An athlete on the comeback trail is Denmark’s Fie Udby Erichsen. The Olympic silver medallist returned to competition last year having taken time out to start a family. She showed good speed at the Europeans leading the field through the first 3 markers before running out of puff in the final few hundred metres ending up 6th. When she’s back to full race fitness she will be a formidable force.

Another sculler to highlight is the American Gevvie Stone.  She’s an immensely powerful sculler winning the “B” final at the Olympics. She returned to international competition in 2014 and finished 9th at the World Championships. She’s another sculler that, on her day, could well be up challenging for the medals.

My picks….Crow in gold, Duan in silver and Bourke in bronze

W2X

16 crews

This could well be one of the most fiercely contested events at the regatta.  Any one of Australia, New Zealand, Poland or GB could take the title.

New Zealand are the reigning World Champions, but, they have somewhat controversially made a change to the line up. This season Zoe Stevenson is joined by Eve Macfarlane who last raced internationally in the Kiwi W8 in 2013. There will be a lot of pressure and focus on this partnership to perform as I mentioned above, Fiona Bourke was in this boat last year and she was bitterly disappointed to lose her seat.

Poland are the current European Champions and World silver medallists, Magdalena Fularczyk and Natalia Madaj are definitely the form crew so far this season with wins at both Bled and Poznan. This will be the double that the other crews benchmark themselves against for this point of the season.

The big story for GB this season has been the return of Katherine Grainger. The Olympic champion has been joined by Vicky Thornley and in their first competitive outing in Poznan they just missed out on a silver medal. They are very much a work in progress and with more time together in the boat they could well become world beater. I think Varese is too soon to see their true potential but they will definitely be in contention for a medal.

The Australians, Olympia Aldersey and Sally Kehoe were bronze medallists in 2014. They have the potential to medal, they won gold at the 2nd World Cup last year but they may find the competition just a little too fierce in Varese and be squeezed out of the medal zone.

The US have kept the same line-up that made the “A” final last year, Ellen Tomek & Meghan O’Leary. These two have been together since the middle of 2013 taking a 7th place in 2013 and going one place better last year. An “A” final spot would be a strong performance for them.

The final crew to mention are the Belarusians – Ekaterina Karsten and Yuliya Bichyk. Karsten is just a machine….Bichyk was injured for the 1st World Cup so Karsten raced the single and destroyed the field.
But, I can’t help thinking that despite their experience and huge amounts of power they do not deliver it in the double. Karsten seems far, far happier in the single (and showed in Bled that she can beat the best). I would put Bichyk and Kukhta in the double and let Karsten do her own thing in the single….

So, my picks….it’s going to be very tough….but I’m going for Poland to continue their winning run with the Kiwis in silver and the British in bronze.

W2-

18 crews

Another event where there is a mouth-watering contest in prospect. The British are the ones everyone is gunning for.

Glover & Stanning

Helen Glover is unbeaten in 32 races and with partner Heather Stanning they destroyed the field at the European’s. However, they were quick to point out in interviews after that win that the main competition will come from outside of Europe.

The manner of the British victory will have sent a big message to the pretenders to their throne that they are in good form. The main threat to the British will come from the young Kiwi pairing of Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler. The U23 world champions raced in the W4- last year winning the World Championship gold.

The US has two pairs entered. The USA1 boat has Felice Mueller from the 2014 bronze medal W4X and W8 Olympic Champion Ellie Logan. The USA2 boat has Megan Kalmoe and Kerry Simmonds who were runners up to the British last year. These two boats will be a serious threat to the British.

The Canadians have also tweaked the line up from 2014. Jennifer Martins remains from the boat that finished 10th, but she is joined by Cristy Nurse from the silver medal winning W8. Like the Kiwis they are also doubling-up in the W8. They may not have the speed to get among the British, Kiwis or Americans but they will be targeting a good “A” final finish.

The Chinese have also got a boat capable of making the “A” final; Min Zhang and Tian Mao were the fastest of a flotilla of Chinese pairs at the 1st world cup finishing second to the Dutch.

The final crews to flag up are the French; Noemie Kober and Marie Le Nepvou, 4th at the Europeans and also watch out for the 2nd GB pair of Rebecca Chin and Lucinda Gooderham.

My picks….GB gold, USA2 silver, NZ bronze

W4-

8 crews

The USA, China and Australia are all doubling-up in the W8. The Americans are so dominant in the W8 that I fully expect them to produce a 1,2 finish when they split into 4’s. The question will be is it USA1 or USA2 for the gold. The no.1 boat is Victoria Opitz, Lauren Schmetterling, Amanda Polk and Heidi Robbins. USA2 has Tessa Gobbo, Meghan Musnicki Emily Regan and Olivia Coffey.

The Australian’s have split with bow 4 (Meaghan Volker, Katrina Bateman, Alexandra Hagan & Chalotte Sutherland) in the AUS2 boat and the stern 4 (Lucy Stephan, Hannah Vermeesch, Renee Chatterton and Rosemary Popa) as AUS1.  The interesting crew member here is Rosemary Popa. She has dual US/Australian citizenship and has recently graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. She’s represented the USA at U23 level finishing 8th in the W2- in 2012. She also won a senior US vest when she competed in the 1st World Cup in Sydney last year.

My picks…USA2 gold, USA1 silver, AUS1 bronze

W4X

10 crews

The Germans like to think that they own this event and so far this season they do. Wins at Bled and Poznan have given them the ideal start to the 2015 campaign. They have 3 of the crew that won the World Championships last year, setting a Worlds best time of 6:06.8 in the process. The change from last year’s crew is that Marie-Catherine Arnold comes in for Julia Lier.

GerM4X

Whilst The Germans dominate the W4X in Europe there are significant challengers to their crown from outside the European continent. The Chinese were 2nd at last year’s World Championships and have 2 crews entered. 2 of that silver medal crew are racing in the China2 crew (Yan Jiang and Xinyue Zhang) a third member of the silver medal crew, Yang Lyu, is in the China1 boat. Also in the China1 boat is Weiwei Zhu who finished just out of the medals in the W2X at the London Olympics. These two boats looking relatively evenly matched and the internal battle between them may be of more importance to the Chinese coaches than how they do against the rest of the field.

The US have established a strong reputation in this boat class and were bronze medallists last year. They have 2 of that crew returning, Grace Latz and Tracy Eisser. They are joined by Grace Luzack who won gold in the W8 in 2013 and 2014 and the young Amanda Elmore making her senior debut following U23 golds in 2012 and 2013. This looks a very strong combination and may well give the Germans a good run for their money.

4th in the World last year were the Australians and they have retained the same line-up; Jessica Hall, Jennifer Cleary, Kerry Hore and Maddy Edmunds. My gut feel is that the medals will come from these 5 boats

Elsewhere, the Kiwis have kept the same line-up that finished 5th last year; Sarah Gray, Georgia Perry, Lucy Spoors and Erin-Monique O’Brien.  The British are trying to find the right combination that saw them win world championship and Olympic medals in this boat class. This has been a struggle in the past few years, but the latest iteration; Mel Wilson, Kristina Stiller, Beth Rodford and Jess Leyden, is showing promise with a 4th place finish at the Europeans. This boat is very much a “Work in progress” and an “A” final finish would be a good step forward. They will want to be beating the likes of New Zealand, Poland and France.

My picks…Germany in gold, USA in silver and Australia 3rd

W8

7 crews.

At the second World Cup last year the Canadians almost pulled off one of the biggest shocks in recent years. Leading the previously unbeaten US by over a length at half way, they were still leading coming through the 1500m mark but the US breezed past them to win by over a second. It was one of the best races I’ve ever seen. The Canadians have made one change to that crew which went onto finish 2nd at the World Championships with Jennifer Martins replacing Rosanne Deboef. The rivalry between the Canadians and the US in the W8 is one of the best in world rowing and the Canucks will be desperate to get one over on their North American neighbours.

For their part, the US have made three changes to the crew that won gold last year with Tessa Gobbo, Emily Regan and Olivia Coffey coming in. The US have an awesome reputation in this event and it’s going to take something very special to dethrone them. But, it’s always interesting with the first race of the season to judge what speed they have, especially when they’ve made a number of changes. I expect it’s going to be pretty much business as usual!

Behind these two boats I expect the battle for bronze to be fierce. The British looked as though they were going to take a medal at the Europeans until a boat stopping crab pushed them back into 5th. They have made one change to that crew with Vicky Meyer-Laker returning following injury. They have a strong, settled line-up and will be wanting to establish themselves as medal contenders and trying to push the Canadians as much as possible.

The Kiwis have also put together a strong-looking boat which includes Rebecca Scown, & Kayla Pratt who were bronze medallists in the W2- in 2013. Australia have half the crew that finished 10th last year (following a 5th place in 2013). Both of these boats will be looking to push the British for the final podium place. 4th at the Europeans were the Germans and they will also be wanting to push for the final medal spot.

My picks….fairly predictable…USA, Canada with GB winning the battle for bronze.

Now onto the lightweight events…

LM1X

20 scullers

The new star of the show in this event is Frenchman Pierre Houin. He’s made a big impact on the senior LM1X field following a bronze at U23 level last year. He won the European Championships ahead of Slovakia’s Lukas Babac. It remains to be seen if that was a “one-off” or if he can follow it up with a similar performance in Varese. He may have his work cut-out as home favourite, Marcello Miani will start as favourite. He’s the reigning world champion and also set a World’s Best Time of 6:43.3. Miani is also one of the most experienced competitors in the field having made his senior debut back in 2003.

Another challenger for the medals is Germany’s Konstantin Steinhuebel who won silver as part of the LM4X last year. Germany have a second sculler entered, Max Roeger, who was a crewmate of Steinhuebel’s in the LM4X last year.

The final sculler to highlight in the field is Bulgaria’s Nedelcho Vasilev, he’s raced at both the first World Cup and the Europeans with a bronze in Bled and a 5th place in Poznan.

My picks…Miani for the win ahead of Houin with Babc in third.

LM2-

4 crews

A small field and one I expect to be a good battle between the French and the British. The French, Augustin Mouterde and Theophile Onfroy won silver at the Europeans following a similar medal at last year’s World Championships. In Amsterdam they finished just 4/10ths of a second ahead of GB’s Sam Scrimgeour and Jonno. The renewal of this rivalry should be great to see.

The gold will be a battle between the French and the British but for the bronze the Italians have a good looking crew with Armando Dell’Aquila and Piero Sfiligoi. Dell’Aquila won silver as part of the LM8 last year and 21 year old Sfiligoi made his international debut in the U23 LM2- last year.

The 4th crew in the event are the Chinese; Jiahoa Li and Mingyang Liang, they raced at the 1st World cup and won gold in another 4 boat final.

My picks…GB to get revenge on the French and these two to be well clear of the Italians in bronze.

LM2X

22 crews

Another big and very high quality field. The most exciting part is the long-awaited return to competition of the 2012 Olympic champions, Rasmus Quist and Mads Rasmussen of Denmark.

Quist_Rasmussen

They have not raced internationally since the Olympic final and it’ll be fascinating to see what speed they have. The new “kings on the block” are the French, Stany Delayre and Jeremie Azou. The European champions have established themselves as the hot favourites for the title this year. They were pushed quite hard at Poznan by the new British combination of Richard Chambers and Will Fletcher. It is, perhaps, a surprise to see Chambers in the double as he is quoted as saying he doesn’t like sculling! But, the new pairing with Fletcher is already paying dividends with a silver medal at the Europeans ahead of the 2013 World Champions from Norway.

Another new combination this year are the Kiwis. Peter Taylor has come out of the very successful LM4- to form a new double with Hayden Cohen – an U23 gold medallist – and younger brother of Olympic M2X champion Nathan. The Kiwis are another nation with a strong tradition in this boat and I’m looking forward to seeing how this new combination gets on.

The home crowd will be hoping for a medal from their crew of Andrea Micheletti and Pietro Ruta, 4th last year and also in 2013….Ruta has a huge amount of experience in this event with a 7th place at the Olympics.

Another exciting crew to watch are the young German combination of Jason Osborne and Moritz Moos. The U23 world champions are making their season debut in Varese following a 5th place at the World Championships last year. They are both 21 (born 5 days apart) and are a very, very exciting prospect. Rio might come a little early for them but if they stay fit and healthy they could be a major contender for gold in Tokyo.

The USA also have an exciting young combination. Andrew Campbell is a two-time U23 gold medalist and he is joined by Dartmouth Alumni, Josh Konieczny, who was in the US LM2X last year that finished 10th. Campbell is an exciting talent and if they can find a combination that clicks they could well push some of the more established doubles.

My picks….very tough, I think it’ll be too much to expect the Danes to medal on their competitive return so I’m going for France gold, GB silver and then close between the Kiwis and Germans from bronze with the New Zealanders just taking it.

LM4-

17 crews. Another intriguing showdown in prospect. Last year saw some epic battles between the Kiwis, Danes and British. At the World championships the Danes emerged victorious setting a new Worlds Best Time of 5:43.1 in the process. The Kiwis were 2nd and the British 3rd. However, since then there have been a number of changes in personnel. The Danes have lost their inspirational strokeman, Morten Joergensen, replaced by Jens Vilhelmsen. The Kiwis have also made one change with Peter Taylor moving to the LM2X and James Lassche taking his place. The British follow the same pattern with just one change from last year with Joel Cassells replacing fellow Colerainian Richard Chambers.

But, it’s the Swiss who have laid down the marker so far this season. The crew of Simon Schuerch, Mario Gyr, Lucas Tramer and Simon Neipmann are unbeaten so far this season winning in Bled and then in spectacular fashion in Poznan with the French taking the silver pushing the Danes into 3rd. This makes the racing in Varese even more interesting with the Swiss (and the French) muscling in on the traditional DEN/GB/NZ battle.

The Chinese were 2nd to the Swiss in Poznan by just 2/10ths of a second and the crew of Wei Jin, Tao Zeng, Chenggang Yu and Jingbin Zhao could well get among the front-runners as well.

My picks…this is really going to be a difficult one to call….but….I’m going to stick my neck out and go with New Zealand in gold with the Danes in silver and GB just pipping the Swiss for bronze.

Now for the lightweight women….

LW1X

14 scullers.

Quite an open field, but above them all sits Fabiana Beltrame. The 2011 World Champion raced in the LW2X last year with limited success but for 2015 she has returned to the single. She was a comfortable winner in Bled beating China’s Shuai Guo by 4 seconds.

Neither the gold or silver medalists from Poznan are racing in this event, but the bronze medalist, Judith Anlauf of Germany is competing. She made her debut at the World championships last year picking up a bronze medal in the LW4X.

The Kiwis have two talented young scullers in this event, Zoe McBride is possibly the quicker of the two and is the reigning U23 LW2X champion. Her compatriot, Jackie Kiddle also raced the U23’s last year finishing 4th in the LW4X. Both of the Kiwis are making their senior debuts in Poznan.

One of the more experienced sculler in the field is Italy’s Giulia Pollini. She made her senior debut in 2009 and has 3 World Championship bronze medals from the LW4X in 2011-13. Keep an eye out too for the Polish duo of Joanna Dorociak, 3rd in the LW1X in Bled, and Martyna Mikolajczak, 2nd in the LW2X at the first World Cup.

The final sculler to mention is the 2nd of the Chinese, Jing Li, 4th at the 1st World Cup and 4th in the LW4X in Amsterdam.

My picks…Beltrame to win comfortably with McBride in silver and Pollini in bronze

Beltrame

LW2X

24 crews

Again, it’s a stacked field with 5 of the “A” final from last year’s World Championships all returning with the same line ups (only the 4th placed South Africans are missing). Leading the way are the reigning World Champions from New Zealand; Sophie Mackenzie and Julia Edward. They set another World’s best time in Amsterdam of 6:48.5. 2014 was their first season together and they certainly ended it on a high!

Less happy with the way 2014 ended were the British. The reigning Olympic champion Kat Copeland raced with Imogen Walsh and missed out on qualifying for the final. This season she is paired with Charlotte Taylor and they have certainly made a stunning start to their campaign with a comfortable 5 second win at the European Championships. For her part Imogen Walsh had a good win in the LW1X at Poznan and races in Varese in a 2nd GB LW2X with 2013 U23 world champion Ellie Piggott. The showdown between the Kiwis and the No.1 GB boat is going to be very interesting (and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the 2nd GB boat not too far behind either….remember this time last year GB secured a 1,2 finish in this event).

But it’s not just about the Kiwis and the British. The Canadian, Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee, were silver medalists last year and are perhaps the most experienced duo in the field having been racing together (off-and-on) since 2011.

The Chinese have two crews entered with the no.2 boat of Dandan Pan and Wenyi Huang being the World championship bronze medalists. However at the first world cup they could only manage 4th with the China 1 boat of Cuiming Chen and Feihong Pan taking the win. Again, the internal competition between these two boats maybe more relevant to the Chinese than how they perform against everyone else.

Another medal contender are the home favourites, Laura Milani and Elisabetta Sancassani. They “only” managed a 6th place last year but they are the 2013 World Champions and on home water you discount that at your peril.

Also keep an eye out for the Australians; Alice McNamara and Ella Flecker, 5th last year, they showed that they have medal potential by taking silver in Lucerne.

The final crews to mention in this packed field are the two German boats. In Germany 1 are Fini Sturm and Marie-Louise Draeger, 2nd at the Europeans and their compatriots in the Germany 2 boat Lena Mueller and Anja Noske, 3rd in the world in 2013, Again, the internal battle between these two crews is going to be a fascinating sub-plot in a truly world class field.

So who do I pick?…..New Zealand, just ahead of GB with Canada back in 3rd.

Now, in a little departure for me I’m also going to have a quick look at the para-rowing classes.

ASW1X

8 scullers

Norway’s Birgit Skarstein is the defending world champion having won by a massive 11 seconds in 2014 ahead of Israel’s Sam Moran. The Norwegian was also runner up in 2013 and has the strongest pedigree in the field. These two finished 1-2 at the recent Gavirate Regatta but it was the Israeli who took the spoils. Chasing hard will be GB’s Rachel Morris, she’s only in her 2nd season of international competition and is benefiting hugely from the ultra-professional set-up in British Para-Rowing. She may well give the Norwegian a very hard fight.

The Belorussian Liudmila  Vauchok was 3rd last year and also took bronze at the 2012 Paralympics.

My picks…Skarstein to take the win with Vauchok in 2nd and Moran in 3rd

ASM1X

14 scullers.

What strikes me when I first started looking at the entries is the age of some of the competitors; Italy’s Fabrizio Caselli who was 5th in the world last year is 46.

But, the favourite in this event is the Australian, Erik Horrie. He’s the 2013 and 2014 World Champion and the Paralympic silver medalist. The big contest will be against his arch-rival from Great Britain; Tom Aggar. The Brit was world champion in 2011 and is desperate to regain his crown. Finishing out of the medals at his home Paralympics was a bitter blow for Aggar and he’ll be keen to put one over his Aussie rival. He came close in Amsterdam taking the silver behind Horrie and it’s going to be exciting to see them renew their rivalry.

Russia’s Alexey Chuvashev

Was the one who pushed Aggar out of the medals in London but he was behind Aggar at last year’s world championships. In Gavirate it was the Russian’s turn to take the win pushing Aggar back into 2nd. The battle between these three is always great to watch.

My picks…Australia, GB, Russia

TAMix2X

9 crews

The top 8 from last year’s World Championships are back in the same line-ups. The Australians, Gavin Bellis and Kathryn Ross are two-time World Champions having won in 2013 and 2014. The 42 year old Bellis was 5th in the Paralympics as well so has quite the pedigree.

Silver medalists last year were the French, Perle Bouge and Stephanie Tardieu. They have shown good speed so far this season with a good win at Gavirate, beating all the other entries here except for the Australians. Bronze medallists last year were the Brazilians, Josiane Lima and Michel Gomez Pessanha. But, in Gavirate they were beaten by the Dutch, Esther Van der Loos and Corne de Koenig. It remains to be seen if they can get their revenge in Varese.

The final crew to mention are the Ukrainian’s Dmytro Ivanov and Iryna Krychenko, 4th last year and will be pushing to take a podium spot.

My picks…Australia, France, Netherlands

And finally….

LTAMix4+

7 crews.

Frankly it’ll be a major surprise if anyone other than the British take the gold. The crew of Grace Clough, Dan Brown, Pam Relph, James Fox and Oliver James in the coxes seat, are the reigning World Champions. They won comfortably at Gavirate and Relph is the reigning Paralympic champion in this event. The Italians have three of the crew that finished 3rd last year and were runners up to the British at Gavirate.

3rd in Gavirate were the French and they have made a couple of changes to the crew that finished 6th last year.

There isn’t too much of a form guide on the other crews, lots of countries are trying out different combinations with a lot of athletes making their first appearance on the international stage.

So my final picks are a comfortable win for the British with the Italians in silver and the French in 3rd.

So that’s it…phew…a bit of an epic. Thanks for sticking with it and I hope you found it informative and who knows, maybe even entertaining!

The next blog will be a brief one on Marlow Regatta (at which I shall be doing a bit of commentating) and then the big one will be Henley Royal Regatta!!

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5 thoughts on “World Rowing Cup II – Varese – A boat by boat preview

  1. Rower

    There are soo many inaccuracies in this latest post. Basic stuff. Just spend a bit more time doing your research next time

    Reply

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