Veterans Head: Bradley Wiggins makes his Tideway rowing debut
Sunday saw 215 masters crews, mainly in eights, take to the Tideway in London for the Veterans Head, run by Vesta Rowing Club. The race was run over the Championship course from the University Stone at Mortlake to Putney on the ebb tide, the reverse of the Boat Race event the previous day.
Quite apart from being a great day for reunions and scratch crews organized after a boozy night out, this year’s race contained a couple of composite crews linked by an unusual partnership. Bradley Wiggins joined the Tideway Scullers (TSS) Masters B crew for his first sweep competition whilst his coach and friend, James Cracknell, rowed for the Molesey Masters B crew who won the overall event. In December the pair created a media storm when Wiggins competed at the British Indoor Rowing Championships.
Graham Benton dominates in the centre of the Tideway Scullers Masters B eight
The TSS crew contained a veritable mixture of indoor and water rowing talent. Tom Gale (TSS chief coach and former GB sculler), Antony Smith (coach at St Paul’s School), Bradley Wiggins (GB’s most decorated Olympian), Mark Mitchell (record-breaking coastal rower) , Graham Benton (record-breaking indoor rower and first non-water rower to take the overall win at BRIC), Tim Male (former GB lightweight sculler), Mike Hennessy (former GB lightweight rower), Niall Kenny (former Irish lightweight sculler) and cox Jonna de Vries (former Dutch national team cox).
The crew had had a total of seven outings in various iterations to prepare for the race but for Wiggins, who up to now has been on the erg or in a sculling boat, rowing in an eight was a relatively new experience. He told WEROW, “I’ve done three outings with them so this will be my fourth time in a sweep boat”. Wiggins elected to row stroke side owing to injuries sustained whilst cycling. He said “I broke my left hand cycling years ago, so I find the feathering with the right a lot easier than the left.”
Bradley Wiggins boating for the Vets Head of the River
The Vets Head is rowed over 6,780m taking top crews around 18 minutes to complete, much longer than the 6:22.5 2k Wiggins pulled on the erg at BRIC. “I like this distance for a kind of entry level for me because the rate’s not as high, so there’s a bit more time to think about the catch and everything; being 28/30 strokes a minute rather than in the 40’s on 2k.”
So would Wiggins be carrying on after the Vets Head? Thankfully, Wiggins, who has just finished his warmup on the erg, says he is. “I will carry on, see where it takes me. Obviously getting fast on these things (ergs) is one thing but then doing it on the water if different so we will see”.
Indoor rowing champion, Graham Benton was invited to join the crew by former TSS teammates. He had been in touch with Wiggins online and asked the Olympian if he would be interested in joining the boat. “Bradley was up for the challenge but masters rowing is becoming more competitive all the time so we will just have to see how it goes.” Benton admitted that training had been hard with their schedule impacted by recent snows.
Wiggin’s coach, James Cracknell, was in the Molesey boat that won the event. The Molesey crew was more conventional mix of former internationals: Tom Middleton (former GB lightweight sculler), David Gillard (former Cambridge rower), Simon Fieldhouse (former GB sculler), Bobby Thatcher (chief coach at St Paul’s School and former GB rower), Tom Solesbury (former GB sculler), George Nash (former GB rower including Olympic gold in Rio), Dan Richie (former GB rower) and cox Phelan Hill (Rio Olympic gold medal cox).
The fastest men’s crew of the day were the Molesey men’s Masters B crew who beat the TSS crew into a category second and overall third place by 24 seconds. Thames Rowing Club won the men’s Masters A and took overall second place. The fastest women’s crew was a composite Quintin BC/Tideway Scullers School/Mortlake AABC/Kingston Rowing Club/London RC (crew 49) who beat the Agecroft Women’s Master A by just over a second.
The weather for the event was overcast but with minimal wind. The organisers had promised live results on Twitter but these didn’t materialise until 1.35pm, 3 hours after the start. They tweeted “technology semi-fail, apologies about that, we’ll sort the gremlins about for next time.” Three crews were penalised 10 seconds for urinating in public, one for dangerous crossing and one for disobeying the umpire’s instructions.
The Tideway Scullers Crew
Bow – Tom Gale: Former GB senior international rower (M4x 1999) and GB senior international coach (WL4x 2010); GB U23 Team 1995 M8+, 1996 M4x, 1997 M4x; HRR winning rower (Thames Cup 1995) and HRR. winning coach (Britannia Cup 2010); Overall winner: Scullers Head 2005, Pairs Head 1996, 1997, 2001, Fours Head 2008
2 Seat – Antony Smith (“Smithy”): England ML2x 2006; National Champion ML4x 2006; HRR finalist (Thames Cup 2008)
3 Seat – Sir Bradley Wiggins: some cycling – having his first water race
4 Seat – Mark Mitchell: Most successful English coastal rower; 13 times 1x Champion; 10 times 2- Champion; 7 times 4+ Champion; World Indoor Champion lwt 40-49 2015; 4 times British Indoor Champion
5 Seat – Graham Benton: World Indoor Champion 2004, 2005, 2006, 2010, 2018; GB Indoor Champion every year except 1 since 2004; 3 times HRR finalist (Prince of Wales 4x 2007, Thames Cup 2008, Britannia Cup 2012)
6 Seat – Tim Male: GB Olympic Team LM2x 2000 (injured before regatta began) and LM4- 2004; GB Senior International 1997 – 2005; World Cup winner LM1x 2005; Overall winner: Scullers Head 2002, Pairs Head 2006, Fours Head 1998 (rec. time); holds 11 ergo World Records
7 Seat – Mike Hennessy: GB Olympic Team LM4- 2004; GB Senior International 2001 – 2005; HRR winner (Visitors 2008); Overall winner Fours Head 2006, 2007 (rec. time)
Stroke – Niall Kenny: Ireland Senior Team 2011 – 2014 (inc LM4x 2011 – 4th); Ireland U23 LM4x 2010 silver medal; Champion of Ireland M8+ 2013
Cox – Jonna De Vries: Dutch Senior team W8+ 2013 World Championships, W8+ 2014 World Cup; HRR finalist (Remenham Cup W8+ 2014)