Who to watch: Aiguebelette World Rowing Cup
The second World Rowing Cup for 2014 is about to start in Aiguebelette, France. Aiguebelette has attracted nearly 700 athletes from Europe and beyond. The United States and Canada are sending teams and New Zealand and Australia have already arrived in France. This will extend the European nations that raced earlier this month in the European Rowing Championships.
Racing will be over four days as Para-rowing heats will start the regatta off on Thursday 19 June. Then on Friday 20 June, the heats in the form of time trials for the World Cup and International boat classes will take place. Here are the crews to watch out for in the World Cup events.
Women’s Pair (W2-)
The Olympic Champion duo of Great Britain's Helen Glover and Heather Stanning are back together internationally for the first time since the London 2012 Olympic Games. Stanning took a year off from rowing after the Games but was back rowing earlier this year. Meanwhile Glover became the 2013 World Champion with new partner Polly Swann. The track record of the Glover-Stanning combination makes them the crew to beat. New Zealand's Louise Trappitt and Rebecca Scown will be strong challengers. This new line-up finished first at the World Rowing Cup in Sydney in March.
The United States is boating a number of combinations which could be the crews that will be aiming to make the women's eight later this season. The number one combination is Megan Kalmoe and Kerry Simmonds. And always up for a strong showing, especially against United States boats, is the Canadian duo of Natalie Mastracci and Susanne Grainger.
Men’s Pair (M2-)
It is rare for a crew to so completely dominate a boat class but since 2009 the men’s pair of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray of New Zealand has done just that. The duo are the Olympic and World Champions, have the World Best Time and have never lost a race since they joined forces.
This domination seems to have pushed other countries not to prioritise this boat and Bond admits that perhaps he and Murray have made the pair less interesting. Great Britain is fronting up with Paul Bennett and Matthew Gotrel, an untried combination. Germany has kept Bastian Bechler and Anton Braun together - the duo that were third at the 2014 European Rowing Championships - and Serbia has come back to their 2013 combination of Nenad Bedik and Nikola Stojic of Serbia.
The magic in this race will be to see the magic of Bond and Murray racing as they continue to reshape rowing history.
Women’s Double Sculls (W2x)
This race is a hard one to pick as some crews are racing each other for the first time this season. Magdalena Fularczyk and Natalia Madaj of Poland look to be on form after a solid win against the World Champions Lithuania last month at the European Championships. But they meet for the first time the new 2014 combination for Australia: Olympia Aldersey and Sally Kehoe. This duo finished first at the World Rowing Cup in Sydney in March.
New Zealand's Fiona Bourke and Zoe Stevenson are hitting the international stage for the first time this season and, after finishing second at last year's World Rowing Championships, they are a crew to watch. Also medalling at last year's World Rowing Championships was the Belarus double of Ekaterina Karsten and Yuliya Bichyk. They took gold at the European Championships in the women's quadruple sculls and now, back in the double, they are another crew likely to feature.
Men’s Double Sculls (M2x)
A large and competitive field is lining up for the men's double sculls including three of the top four from the European Championships. Azerbaijan's Aleksandar Aleksandrov and Boris Yotov finished second in Belgrade ahead of Germany's Hans Gruhne and Stephan Krueger, with World Champions Norway (Nils Jakob Hoff and Kjetil Borch) in fourth. For the Aiguebelette World Rowing Cup, these four boats are likely to be in the stakes for the medals.
This time, however, the field is tougher. New Zealand's new line-up of brothers Karl and Robert Manson is ready for a first international race. Another tough brother combination will be Martin and Valent Sinkovic who come straight out of Croatia's very successful men's quadruple sculls. Keep an eye out too for Ariel Suarez and Cristian Rosso of Argentina - finalists at last year's World Rowing Championships.
Men’s Four (M4-)
Great Britain's performance at the 2014 European Championships was one of complete domination. The new combination of Alex Gregory, Mohamed Sbihi, George Nash and Andrew Triggs Hodge sent out the warning that they mean business. But the British may have a harder job to dominate in Aiguebelette with the arrival of Australia and the United States. These two crews finished second and third respectively at last year's World Rowing Championships and they will meet the British flagship crew for the first time this season.
Keep an eye out too for Germany. The Germans are not boating an eight in Aiguebelette. Instead they have put together a four full of top names from the flagship eight. There's no doubt that the British will be keeping a wary eye on this crew.
Women’s Single Sculls (W1x)
The three medallists from the 2014 European Championships are back to go after more hardware with Olympic and European Champion Mirka Knapkova of the Czech Republic the firm favourite on paper. But Knapkova has been struggling to overcome injury lately and she will again be challenged by European silver medallist Chantal Achterberg of the Netherlands as well as the bronze medallist, Sanita Puspure of Ireland.
Knapkova will, however, be most concerned about the arrival in Europe of New Zealand’s Emma Twigg. The silver medallist at last year's World Rowing Championships, Twigg began this international season with a victory over World Champion Kim Crow (AUS) at the World Rowing Cup in Sydney.
Watch out as well for regular finalist Magdalena Lobnig of Austria and Olympian from the United States, Genevra Stone.
Men’s Single Sculls (M1x)
Dominating the men's single at present is World Champion Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic. But at the 2014 European Championships Germany's Marcel Hacker gave the Czech a good run for his money. Joining the attack on Synek in Aiguebelette will be Olympic Champion Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand. Drysdale took a sabbatical after his 2012 Olympic win and all but missed last season. Now he will be looking to test himself again on the international stage.
Keep an eye out for the first race of the 2014 season by World Championship silver medallist Angel Fournier Rodriguez of Cuba as well as up-and-coming single sculler Roel Braas of the Netherlands.
Lightweight Women’s Double Sculls (LW2x)
In the absence of World Champions Laura Milani and Elisabette Sancassani of Italy, the door may have opened for Great Britain's Imogen Walsh and Katherine Copeland. Olympic Champion, Copeland made a comeback at the 2014 European Championships and finished third with Walsh. As a new combination, they are likely to improve as the season progresses.
Germany's Anja Noske has a new partner in Leonie Pless and after Noske took silver at the European Championships, this may well be a combination that will impress.
Arriving in Europe in time for this World Cup are New Zealand's Lucy Strack and Julia Edward and Australia's Ella Flecker and Alice McNamara. Both these crews have the ability to impress their European counterparts. Make sure you look out for Brazil's crew of Fabiana Beltrame and Beatriz Cardoso who will be looking to take this boat all the way to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Lightweight Men’s Double Sculls (LM2x)
The best of the 2014 European Championships are back to race again three weeks later. In front of a home crowd, European Champions Jeremie Azou and Stany Delayre will give their all to provide the audience with what they came to see. This will mean that European silver and bronze medallists Germany and Norway will have to try to overcome the home crowd support if they want to beat the French. Lars Hartig and Konstantin Steinhuebel will race for Germany while World Champions Kristoffer Brun and Are Strandli of Norway will be looking to step back up.
Testing the waters together for the first time together since last year's European Championships is the Olympic finalist double of Nuno Mendes and Pedro Fraga. Can they make this a positive start in their push towards Rio?
Keep an eye out for New Zealand's new combination of Adam Ling and Alistair Bond who have gone through rigorous trials to be able to race in Aiguebelette.
Lightweight Men’s Four (LM4-)
There is little doubt that Denmark is the crew to beat at this event. The current World Champions won at the European Championships and are aiming for a 2014 clean sweep. But both Great Britain and France were closing the gap on Denmark in Belgrade three weeks ago and, especially France, will be unrelenting on the waters of Lake Aiguebelette.
Racing for the first time this season internationally is the New Zealand four that finished second at the 2013 World Rowing Championships. Watch New Zealand put the heat on Denmark in Aiguebelette.
Women’s Quadruple Sculls (W4x)
World Champions Germany will be looking to be back on top after finishing second at the European Championships. They have re-jigged their crew in preparation. Hot on their heels is likely to be Poland's crew that took silver at the European Championships.
There are two notable new arrivals to the 2014 season:. the United States will be gunning for a medal along with their North American counterparts Canada. Both of these countries have seen success at different times in the quad. Word has it that New Zealand's new line up should not be discounted.
Men’s Quadruple Sculls (M4x)
Both Great Britain and Germany medalled at the 2014 European Championships, taking silver and bronze respectively. They are back to race in Aiguebelette and both must be thinking that the gold could be theirs in the absence of European Champions Ukraine.
There is a chance, however, that France may surprise. With the home water advantage, France will be using all of the tricks of the trade to be out in front. Keep an eye out too for Poland and Estonia, who both made the A-final at the European Championships. Both nations are known to put a priority on the quad.
Women’s Eight (W8+)
The Americans are back. This often means that the race is on for second. The United States are the reigning World and Olympic Champions and also the World Best Time holders with a series of wins from major events going back to 2006. Canada, however, is always willing to give the United States a good run for their money and with super-coxswain Lesley Thompson-Willie giving the commands once again, the Canadians will be putting up a strong challenge.
Great Britain, who took silver at the European Championships, are back and it is likely that they will be looking forward to the challenge of these North American crews.
Men’s Eight (M8+)
For the United States, the men's eight is a key event and each year the world eagerly waits to see the new combination for the season. . Now is the chance to view the 2014 crew. The United States will be up against finalists from the European Championships who all raced each other three weeks ago. Strongest of this bunch is likely to be Great Britain. The British boat has a number of top names in the crew, including Olympic Champion Pete Reed sitting in the middle of the boat.
Watch out too for Poland and France. Although Poland finished just ahead of France at the European Championships, the French are looking to give their home crowd something to remember in this boat and the crew includes Dorian Mortelette and Germain Chardin, Olympic medallists from the pair.