Saturday December 8th saw the Cambridge University Hare & Hounds head down to Wimbledon Common for the Blues Varsity match. Cambridge had won all the races the previous weeks (men’s 2nd-4ths and women’s 2nd and 3rds), meaning a 5-0 lead already assured a series victory over Oxford and the potential of a 7-0 whitewash very much on the cards.
The Blues team – eight men and seven women – were joined by a coach-load of supporters keen to buoy their team to a light blue triumph. An early arrival at Wimbledon Common gave the travelling party enough time to conjure up a healthy bout of nervous energy that the fans channelled into a high-octane trip to Asda.
Early signs for the day looked promising when Cambridge took victory in the supporter’s race, lead home by ex-captain Matt Leach, who was closely followed by Chris Bannon in third and Martin Shore in fourth.
When 2pm came, the ladies’ team were on the start line and raring to go. They began the race well, all seven packing in close behind the lead Oxford runner at the treacherous river crossing. By the next mile, the gap between the Cambridge runners and the trailing dark blues had increased, with Oxford’s Sophia Saller gaining a healthy lead at the front.
But 2.9 miles in, disaster struck. An error in the course marking lead all seven of the Cambridge team to follow the men’s course rather than their own; Saller, still leading the race, had followed the correct route, while the light blue team, all packed closely together, headed on a more forgiving route to the finish.
Confusion reigned at the end of the race: Liz Mooney and Emily Shearer had finished the race in first and second place, in front of Kate Niehaus from Oxford, all of whom had been lead astray by the course markers. Saller, meanwhile, finished 7th despite a dominant performance for the dark blues. After much deliberation, it was eventually decided to award Cambridge the team victory given the dominant position the team found themselves in prior to the navigational carnage, with Saller being awarded the individual victory.
The men’s race followed at 2:45pm. With both sides very closely matched on paper, this one looked set to go down to the wire. In the opening stages Oxford seemed to have the edge with five runners in the front pack to Cambridge’s four. And things turned sour for the men in light blue when Alex Milne – winner of the Cuppers three weeks before and sitting comfortably near the front of the race – was forced to pull out due to an injury.
Cambridge had to dig deep now, and Alex Short and Lewis Lloyd kicked clear of the front pack to open up a strong lead in front of the chasing Oxford runners. But the dark blues had packed in well in the middle order, and as the race drew to a close, the likes of Kelvin Gomez, Josh Carr and Paddy Roddy were left a tall order of catching the Oxonians in front of them.
Alex Short was the race’s clear winner, completing the 12km course in a storming time of 38:10 that he made to look remarkably comfortable. Captain Lewis Lloyd ran exceptionally well to finish in second place (38:48), but with Oxford runners occupying seven of the next eight places, they were able to score a winning 35 points to Cambridge’s 46.
So although the 6-1 victory wasn’t the whitewash the men in light blue had dreamed of prior to the day’s racing, it was still a phenomenal achievement that should warm the hearts of all CUH&H members past and present. BUCS is the next event on the horizon, giving the club an opportunity not only to place highly against universities from across the UK, but to also get the better of Oxford one more time.