Monday, 5 September 2016

Selling my Kona Kula 2013

Hi there,
due to moving to France I need to sell my Kona Kula 2013. It's my first real mountain bike and I have lifetime warranty on it so a bit sad to leave it but I had to make choices.

Size : M (19")
Frame material : alloy (scandium 69)
Wheels : 26" shimano MT15
Fork : Rockshox Recon 100mm Gold TK Solo Air with remote control
Single chainring Hope 30T
Rear mech : Shimano Deore XT shadow +
Chain : KMC X10-EL titanium nitride coated (I indulged myself...)
Saddle : Specialized Avatar Bodygeometry (with gel and male parts-friendly geometry)
Rubber : Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.1 Evo tubeless ready 3 compounds Pace star front
             Hutchinson Cougar 2.2 Airlight rear
Gifts : a whole set of additional rubber, 2x Maxxis Ikon 2.2 (original tires, still in OK shape), 2x Maxxis Medusa 2.1 (mud tires), Maxxis High Roller 2.35, Continental X King 2.2 Race Sport (their light rubber)

The bike is in perfect working order, it rides even better than originally with the drivetrain modifications.
I bought the bike 1800 euros in 2013, I'm asking for £500 here. I live in Glasgow. Don't hesitate to ask me questions and come and try it!

Monday, 29 August 2016

Race report: British Cross-Country National Championships, Cathkin Braes, 16th July 2016

Today is Tuesday, I am getting geared up for the mountain bike club ride, in a few minutes I will go to Milngavie to meet my mates from Glasgow Mountain Biking Club. I am preparing the bike, taking the necessary spare parts. While I check the tire pressure, I notice a big blob of wet mud sticked to the side of the tire, probably some remnant of the British National XC Championships that took place at Cathkin Braes last week end. Trying to remove it, I realize what I tought was mud is actually a walnut-size hernia of the tube sticking out of the tire. The tire has a 5 centimeter-long tear on its side, how the hell could I even finish the race with this thing?

After the cancellation of Scottish Cross Country round 4 at Dalbeattie on July 3rd, my motivation flaked off. I was too much focused on performing at these series, so seeing my efforts were in vain was kind of a knock-down. My training quality suffered. On top of this, I was on vacation in Spain, drank too much, even smoked cigarettes. The guilt feeling alone that followed was a strong vaccination against these, let alone the feeling of sucking at VO2max intervals after that! The week before National Championships, I was focused on getting back on track. Although my fitness was not at its best, I felt good on the technical sections during track practice (cf. the picture). The organizers introduced a few technical sections in addition to the existing track. Some of them were really technical, lots of people gathered around to watch riders, pick up lines, and practice them. I treated this race as a test against national level Sport category.

Right from the start, I knew this was another level, being thrown into 5th or 6th position before the singletrack. I did not make up time on the first descent, but I caught people on the next uphill section, and even overtook one. I finished the first lap in 4th position, in the wheel of the 3rd. Second lap went well until the end. Loose sharp rock were on the track, dislodged from the ground by drifting bikes. I dodge them with my front wheel but my rear tire got mangled by one of them, instantly blowing up the tire. It took my around 5 minutes to get the bike ready to race again, with most of the time being spent inflating the tube with my small pump. Now I'm seriously considering buying some CO2 cans! This mechanical threw me away in 9th position out of 10 people, but I managed to get back to 4th position at the end of the third lap. However, my strength plummeted from this moment. My lucidity went down as well, as I suffered a crash during last lap. Fortunately I came out of it unscathed. I finished 6th.

Although my result was far from great this day, I had a taste of the field at the national level. Now I know I'll have to stay in shape if I want some good results in this league. I was also lucky enough not to burst the tube despite the big hernia and the few jumps and step downs.

The next day the real guys and girls were racing, I mean Elite, Expert, Master, etc. It was very instructive to watch riders of this caliber, see how they manage technical sections and get the flow. People like Grant Ferguson ride lines of their own, tackle obstables like nobody else. It is also amazing how much power is generated by a small body.

Full results on Roots and Rain and on the Scottish Cross Country webpage.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

What Science says: polarised training

      How to train to perform well in races? In a nutshell “you have to train a lot and train smart” (Seiler and Tonnessen, 2009). While it is rather easy “train a lot” and find your limits before overtraining (because training volume is a one-dimension problem, if not optimally you either train too much or not enough), “training smart” is less straightforward because training modes are multiple: you can vary the training frequency, the activity type, the duration, the intensity, the number of bouts and the recovery between them if you do intervals, etc. One of the most discussed aspects of training is the intensity distribution. Should we train most of the time at a low intensity with occasional surges in intensity? Should we train most of the time at the intensity which corresponds to the race pace? In the recent years an intensity distribution called “polarised training” has been widely discussed, with many articles and books claiming that it is the optimal intensity distribution.
      Here I will review part of the scientific literature dealing with training intensity and polarised training. I do not want to give any advice on how you should train, but instead give you rationale information so that you can make choices about your training based on scientific evidence and introduce a discussion about the logic behind different training intensities.

What is polarised training?
      Scientific data on how athletes train are hard to obtain. Professional athletes and their coaches are reluctant to alter training for the sake of science because decreased performance due to a less efficient program could compromise a season or a career. Sufficient sample sizes are hard to get because of this and because of inclusion criteria (did the athlete complete the whole program? Did he record a sufficient amount of data?), so even if differences are found between training programs statistical significance is not always reached because of small number of subjects included in the analysis. These issues are part of the reasons why studies describing the training of elite athletes emerged only recently, more or less since early 2000s. The training intensity distribution of athletes is often reported according to a three zones classification based on heart rate recordings. Zone 1 contains efforts below the aerobic threshold, zone 2 efforts between the aerobic and anaerobic thresholds and zone 3 efforts above the anaerobic threshold. Although this classification is much simpler compared to the actual zones used by athletes and coaches during training (up to 8 zones, Seiler and Tonnessen 2009), the zones boundaries are linked to true physiological changes in metabolism and make comparisons between studies less arbitrary.
      Descriptive (contrary to experimental) retrospective studies have monitored the training of elite level athletes of various sports: cross-country skiing (Seiler and Kjerland 2006, Tonnessen 2014), rowing (Fiskerstrand and Seiler 2004, Guellich 2009), running (Billat 2001) and cycling (Lucia 2000, Schumacher and Mueller 2002, Zapico 2007). The training intensities of these athletes show two main types of distribution. Some studies (Seiler and Kjerland 2006, Fiskerstrand and Seiler 2004, Guellich 2009, Billat 2001) show a polarised distribution, that is to say a distribution looking like 75 % of time in zone 1, 5 % in zone 2 and 20 % in zone three or 75/5/20. The other studies (Tonnessen 2014, Lucia 2000, Schumacher and Mueller 2002, Zapico 2007) show a pyramidal distribution, something looking like 75/20/5. It is important to note that among these four studies that show a pyramidal intensity distribution, three of them we conducted with cyclists. To my knowledge there are no other retrospective analyses of how elite cyclists train, so the scientific literature suggests that in general, elite cyclist training follows such a pattern. Of course, training is periodised and the intensity distribution varies along the year, with the competition period putting emphasis on zone 3 (Tonnessen 2014 reports a slighlty polarised distribution during the competition period).

Why some athletes do polarised training?
      An overlooked aspect of these retrospective studies is that most training happens in zone 1. Yes, a polarised distribution shows that a lot of training happens in zone 3 but most of it happens in zone 1 (up to 95 % as reported in Guellich 2009, and interestingly this was regardless of the training period). Additionally, an important information present in these studies is that elite athletes training volume is huge, and training volume is a primary determinant of performance (Seiler and Tonnessen 2009). To illustrate this point, Fiskerstrand and Seiler 2004 show that the annual training of international level Norwegian rowers grew from around 900 hours in the 70s to around 1100 hours in the 90s. The increase in volume was realized mainly through an increase in zone 1 training. These athletes also train following a polarised distribution, and this may be a strategy to achieve very high training volume while preventing overtraining. Similar conclusions were reached in reports studying Ironman athletes (Munoz 2014b). Far from being “junk miles” as sometimes claimed, the intensity reached in zone 1 by elite athletes actually corresponds to a high energy flux, similar to the VO2max or threshold of sedentary or intermediate athletes (Esteve-Lanao 2007).
      An experimental study reported by Stoggl and Sperlich (2014) prescribed different training distributions to elite athletes and monitored the progress before and after the training intervention. In short, athletes following a polarised training programme improved markers of endurance performance more than athletes following a threshold programme. The authors suggest that at this level, further performance enhancement are easier to achieve through increase in high intensity training because the volume of training is already close to the limit of what the people can take and any additionnal volume fails to provoke significant physiological adaptations. Polarised training would then appear as a strategy to enhance performance further by shifting the high intensity training from threshold to higher intensities and spending the remaining time below or at the aerobic threshold, as an active recovery. Training at threshold intensity is a powerful tool to enhance performance but at a high level it might have a poor risk/reward ratio if used to build up fitness, compared to VO2max intensities.
It should be noted that in certain sports (cycling ?) the race-relevant movement is best achieved at race pace, which is often close to threshold intensity in endurance sports. So despite the advantages of polarise training, for the sake of learning or refining motor skills threshold training has an important role.

Is polarised training good for everyone?
      Experimental studies using sedentary or moderately trained subjects showed mixed results. Some studies showed benefits from threshold training (Denis 1984, Londeree 1997), others compared a polarised program to a threshold program and showed greater performance improvement following a polarised program (Esteve-Lanao 2007, Neil 2012, Munoz 2014a). However, all studies acknowledge the importance of threshold training at some point of the training periodisation, so it should not be concluded threshold training is useless.
Important issues regarding the use of a polarised training program by sedentary (for health benefits) or moderately trained athletes are its practicability outside the laboratory without a coach and specific equipment (especially for sedentary who would not want to buy anything else than a pair of running shoes!), its benefits over the medium to long term (several months to several years) and its safety. Without coaching supervision, people tend to have their easy training too hard and their hard training too easy, making all training sessions fall into the same monotone intensity (Seiler and Tonnessen 2009).
      A study (Gillen 2016) compared the benefits of sprint interval training program (3x20 seconds all-out with 2 minutes rest) versus moderate intensity training (45 minutes at 75 % of maximum heart rate), with three training sessions per week for 12 weeks. Both training programs produced similar health improvements despite the fact that sprint interval training required 5 times less training time than moderate intensity training.
      It is well known that high intensity training triggers quick improvements in performance but on the other hand these improvement quickly reach a plateau, making such a strategy arguable over the long term (Seiler and Tonnessen 2009).
     Zone 3 training leads to increased risk of “cardiac events”, especially in people with a limited aerobic endurance basis, and increased risk of injury ( For this reason it is usually advised to begin a training program with an adaptation period lasting a month or so, during which the intensity of exercise is gradually increased.

      Polarised training is a training strategy that is used by elite athletes of some endurance sports (running, rowing and cross country skiing but apparently much less frequently in cycling) and which may allow them to balance high training volumes with high training intensities while avoiding overtraining. Although it makes the most sense for high training volumes, polarised training has shown some benefits for less trained athletes, although the performance gains are likely to be limited if not accompanied by a subsequent increase in training volume, which is one of the most important determinant of performance. Moreover, the very high intensities asked by polarised training are difficult to follow by untrained or moderately trained people and require a very high motivation. Also, health risks exist (cardiac events, repetitive strain injury, etc).

Billat, V.L., Demarle, A., Slawinski, J., Paiva, M., and Koralsztein, J.P. (2001). Physical and training characteristics of top-class marathon runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc 33, 2089–2097.
Denis, C., Dormois, D., and Lacour, J.R. (1984). Endurance training, VO2 max, and OBLA: a longitudinal study of two different age groups. Int J Sports Med 5, 167–173.
Espen Tonnessen, S.S. (2009). Intervals, Thresholds, and Long Slow Distance: the Role of Intensity and Duration in Endurance Training. Sportscience 13, 32–53.
Esteve-Lanao, J., Foster, C., Seiler, S., and Lucia, A. (2007). Impact of training intensity distribution on performance in endurance athletes. J Strength Cond Res 21, 943–949.
Fiskerstrand, A., and Seiler, K.S. (2004). Training and performance characteristics among Norwegian international rowers 1970-2001. Scand J Med Sci Sports 14, 303–310.
Gillen, J.B., Martin, B.J., MacInnis, M.J., Skelly, L.E., Tarnopolsky, M.A., and Gibala, M.J. (2016). Twelve Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves Indices of Cardiometabolic Health Similar to Traditional Endurance Training despite a Five-Fold Lower Exercise Volume and Time Commitment. PLoS ONE 11, e0154075.
Guellich, A., Seiler, S., and Emrich, E. (2009). Training methods and intensity distribution of young world-class rowers. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 4, 448–460.
Londeree, B.R. (1997). Effect of training on lactate/ventilatory thresholds: a meta-analysis. Med Sci Sports Exerc 29, 837–843.
Lucía, A., Hoyos, J., Pardo, J., and Chicharro, J.L. (2000). Metabolic and neuromuscular adaptations to endurance training in professional cyclists: a longitudinal study. Jpn. J. Physiol. 50, 381–388.
Muñoz, I., Seiler, S., Bautista, J., España, J., Larumbe, E., and Esteve-Lanao, J. (2014a). Does polarized training improve performance in recreational runners? Int J Sports Physiol Perform 9, 265–272.
Muñoz, I., Cejuela, R., Seiler, S., Larumbe, E., and Esteve-Lanao, J. (2014b). Training-intensity distribution during an ironman season: relationship with competition performance. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 9, 332–339.
Neal, C.M., Hunter, A.M., Brennan, L., O’Sullivan, A., Hamilton, D.L., De Vito, G., and Galloway, S.D.R. (2013). Six weeks of a polarized training-intensity distribution leads to greater physiological and performance adaptations than a threshold model in trained cyclists. J. Appl. Physiol. 114, 461–471.
Schumacher, Y.O., and Mueller, P. (2002). The 4000-m team pursuit cycling world record: theoretical and practical aspects. Med Sci Sports Exerc 34, 1029–1036.
Seiler, K.S., and Kjerland, G.Ø. (2006). Quantifying training intensity distribution in elite endurance athletes: is there evidence for an “optimal” distribution? Scand J Med Sci Sports 16, 49–56.
Stöggl, T., and Sperlich, B. (2014). Polarized training has greater impact on key endurance variables than threshold, high intensity, or high volume training. Front Physiol 5, 33.
Tønnessen, E., Sylta, Ø., Haugen, T.A., Hem, E., Svendsen, I.S., and Seiler, S. (2014). The road to gold: training and peaking characteristics in the year prior to a gold medal endurance performance. PLoS ONE 9, e101796.
Zapico, A.G., Calderón, F.J., Benito, P.J., González, C.B., Parisi, A., Pigozzi, F., and Di Salvo, V. (2007). Evolution of physiological and haematological parameters with training load in elite male road cyclists: a longitudinal study. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 47, 191–196.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Race report: Scottish Cross Country Series 2016 round 3, Cathkin Braes, 22nd May

I do not know for how long I have been awake but it feels like eternity. Soaked in sweat, I lie on top of the blanket, I am roasting. Suddenly I feel I cannot bear the pain in my stomach any more, so I get out of bed and reach the bathroom to give my dinner back. Crawling back to bed I have a look at my telephone, it is 5:30 a.m. This is the worst food poisoning that happened to me for years. Why the hell should it happen three days before a race? Although I feel much better now, I did not retain any food or drink since yesterday's night training, and two hours of anaerobic intervals begs for a good deal of water and calories. I limp to the kitchen and prepare a mint infusion with honey. It is the only thing I can tolerate at the moment. It is only water with mint and sugar but at that moment it tastes like the Nectar of Gods.

Later that day I managed to go to work but must have looked like a zombie. Even walking was a challenge. Funny enough, the bike commute to work was a salvation and I was enjoying a cool breeze on my face. I did not achieve much besides lying face down on my desk or at my lab bench, so I went back home and forced myself to eat something. It's my birthday tomorrow and my family sent me a box of chocolates, it is almost the only thing my mouth can tolerate. With food poisoning almost everything tastes like cardboard. On Friday I feel much better but it is still hard to eat. At least I am not dehydrated any more.

Then comes Saturday, the race is tomorrow and today the track is taped for practice. I usually increase my calorie intake one day before the race because if I eat too much on race day I feel sleepy. However, energy loading is not really possible today, my stomach is still pretty upset. I just chill out at home before heading to Cathkin Braes around 6 p.m. for a ride. I have been riding there so many times, doing so many race simulations that I will treat it like a “bike feel maintenance”. The sunshine feels so good it seems to cure my food poisoning. Arriving at the top of the dual slalom, I stop and watch Glasgow in the distance. Bright rays of warm sun pierce through the few clouds and pour over the city. I wish I could paint... I will do just one lap, repeating a few technical section then head back home. I need some rest.

Race day, 12:30 p.m. I am driving to the race track, window open to let the warm air come in. The MP3 player feeds the car radio with relaxing gypsy jazz. I switch on the “metal” playlist to help me set my mind into racing mode. Am I ready for this? Sometimes listening to the harder stuff exhausts me... Not this time. Now I feel the need for speed. I park in the overflow car park and get ready. I grab my chip and plate, then go for a warm-up. My legs are already awake from an urban trial session in the morning, so I open the throttle a bit faster than usual. I jump over rocks, snake around corners, winch up the climbs. I am feeling good but the legs go in the red a bit quicker than I would expect. Negotiating a tight bermed corner in the woods, I hear a voice calling my name. It's my friend Thomas who is warming up as well. I see his elbow is scorched, he tells me he just had a big crash there. We finish practising the track together and then split for the final phase of the warm up. I go and put a few climbs at increasing pace to ignite the lactic acid engine. Thomas will not race because now his helmet brace is broken, and after advice from the paramedics.

I meet the other racers at the start area and wait for my name to be called. I am surprised by many habitual racers not being present. Are people on holiday? Were they afraid by the possible cancellation of the event due to the small number of marshals registered in advance? My friend Luke is not present, neither. Thomas will later tell me that he broke his wrist on a big step-down during practice earlier this week. This course is much more technical than it seems at first glance. The high speed rock gardens will take their toll on tires as well, with many people suffering from punctures.

Sport racers are called to align on the grid. Despite my DNF last race because of a broken chain, I am still on the first line. This is good because the start matters a lot here. Unlike other races that have a big fire road climb right from the start and allow easy spread of the racers, here we start on flat and quickly attack technical features and downhill singletrack. I shift gears, grab the brakes and wait for the start. The start area is filled with silence. My stomach feels a bit tight. Is it a remnant from food poisoning or just the stress? I empty my mind and fill it with positive images. I have been rehearsing this so many times, now let the real show begin!

Unleashed by the sound of the gun, we jump off the start line and sprint like angry greyhounds. I am usually good for starts but today I feel the pressure of the field more than I like so I make my sprint last a little more, managing to lead the start of the race once again. We engulf tight corners, rock gardens, drop-offs and reach the dual slalom. While I take the left line, I see somebody pushing hard and negotiating brilliantly the right line, putting me in second position. This will not last much because I immediately overtake him on the next climb. By the time I enter the woods, I catch a Junior racer and overtake... to find my front mech refusing to operate on the following climb! “Putain, putain, putain, PUTAIN!!”. I cannot believe it. Mechanical problems will not start again, will they? I quickly jump off the bike and operate the mech by hand, hopefully it will not be funny again. This glitch allowed John Mackenzie to catch me and he overtakes me just before the long rocky section, as I was timorously following a Junior rider. This was a mistake, I need to be more aggressive.

Now the track goes slightly downhill in the woods and consists of flat and bermed turns with a few rock gardens. The crowd is amazing and cheers us with bells and shouts. It is an unusual feeling to be cheered up, I like it. So far racing was more about suffering in silence in a a murky and spooky wood, but the atmosphere at Cathkin Braes is vibrant. I stay in the wheel of the Junior while John slowly drifts away from sight. This year the course features a kind of impossible dirt climb. I do not even try to climb it on the bike, it would not pass during practice. As I always led the starts so far I must have enough brute power, I need to work on climbing skills... I am also bad at jumping back on the bike (I always wonder how people manage to land on the saddle without making guacamole with their avocados), so I lose a bit of time there as well. The course finishes with a climb that enables me to catch John again. I did not lose so much time after all! For the next two laps I will be in John's wake. I am quite happy because I thought he would drop me in the technical downhill bits but I always managed to remain close. On the first long climb of the second lap I am surprised by his pace, it feels like we are chilling out. I wonder if I will attack now but it feels too early, making a decisive gap will be very difficult at this point. So I patiently follow him, pick up a few lines to try for the next time.

At the beginning of the third lap, I see him stop and jump off the bike. He is having trouble with his chain! I had trouble in the same rocky section myself, with the chain bouncing everywhere and falling off the chainrings. Here is my opportunity to make a difference. I have been chasing the ball so far, now it is in my court and I will not let it go. I ride downhill the same safe way (a crash would annihilate all my efforts) and hammer on the pedals in the climbs, trying to make a drop on my competitors. At the beginning of the last lap, I am still in first position. “You can do it!! Just fucking do it now!!” I shout to myself. I put even more pressure on the cranks during the climb. It is the last lap so it can hurt, I really do not care. I often have a quick look over my shoulder: nobody in sight. As I enter the last climb the situation remains the same. Let's underline the achievement and make a big time gap at the finish line! I give everything left in my legs during the last minutes. As I cross the finish line, something feels wrong. I feel like I wake up from a bad dream and wonder if it was really the final lap. I then hear my name on the sound system, confirming that I finished the race in first position.

It is a funny feeling because I always pictured myself winning a race pulling a wheelie with one hand, the other closed in a tight fist, and shouting “YEEEEES!!”. This is for next time lol. All I did was to hug Thomas who was standing near the finish line and watching the race with his family. There is no sugar left in my blood to feed my brain so I can barely align three sentences before I reach my car and swallow three bananas and put some dry clothes. I indulge myself with Coke, ice cream and a mocha and sit near the ceremony area, enjoying the sun and chatting with a few friends passing by. At this moment my mind is still knocked out by the effort and my result does not feel real yet. The pleasure from the victory will slowly come later that day, like a warm wave of joy putting a never ending grin on my face.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Recipe: rice, lentil and butternut salad with Dijon vinaigrette and Indian spices

Infused with an Indian and French spirits, this delicious recipe is quick and easy to make. The tenderness of butternut contrasts with the crunchiness of almonds, and the tangy and refreshing vinaigrette balances the warmth of the Indian spices.

I often cook it before going to work, while I am having breakfast and preparing my bag. It is a complete and balanced meal, which is convenient when you carry a bag full of training equipment because you need only one box to transport your lunch/dinner. This recipe is cheap to make because it contains almost only basic and unprocessed ingredients. It is also suitable for a vegetarian diet. Although I am not vegetarian I like to be able to prepare a balanced meal without any animal products in order to balance my diet.

This recipe takes 35 minutes to cook, possibly less if you have two burners on your hob and 10 minutes to prepare. The following ingredient quantities represent around 850 kcal with around 55 % of the calories coming from carbohydrates, 30 % from lipids and 15 % from proteins.

100 g brown rice
2 cm-thick (finger-thick) slice of butternut squash, peeled and seeded
80 g green lentils, preferably Puy lentils which retain a better shape after cooking
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (which softens the structure of lentils and make them cook faster)
15 g whole almonds (around 15 almonds or what fits in the palm of your hand)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
4 black peppercorns
3 cloves (I love cloves and their strength may vary depending on the batch, so might want to try one first and adjust to your taste)
2 branches parsley

Step 1: Chop the butternut squash slice in medium cubes (around 2 cm wide, so they contrast with the size of the other ingredients). Put the rice in a pan with 25 cL water and bring to boil, then cover and reduce the heat to the minimum and cook 20 minutes. Add the butternut squash cubes to the rice after 5 minutes, so the butternut squash cooks for 15 minutes. After 20 minutes, if some water remains increase the heat and stir until the water has evaporated. Set aside.

Step 2: While the rice is cooking, put the lentils in a pot with 50 cL water and the bicarbonate of soda. Bring to boil then reduce the heat to the minimum, cover and cook for 15 minutes. The bicarbonate of soda enables you to cook plant ingredients in half the normal time. If you do not have bicarbonate of soda cook the lentils 30 minutes. When cooked, drain the lentils.

Step 3: While the rice and lentils are cooking, wash the parsley and finely chop it. Prepare the vinaigrette with the mustard, vinegar and oil. Chop the cloves and grind them finely, then grind the black pepper. Use ready-made ground spice if you do not have a grinder or add them to the rice then fish them out at the end of cooking. Coarsely chop the almonds, do not chop them too fine so they can add a chunky texture to the dish.

Step 4: Combine all ingredients and serve or store for later. This recipe can be enjoyed slightly warm or cold.

Bon appétit!

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Race report: Scottish Cross Country Series 2016 round 2, Dunoon, 1st of May

The start
I am standing near the start line with my bike, shivering in the shadow of trees. Although I'm covered in mud from practising the course as a warm up, this is not enough to prevent some midges to sting me. The night downpour has stopped and even rays of sun fall on the wet land.
The race is supposed to start in fifteen minutes but the area is surprisingly quiet. I do not like that, I feel at the wrong place. A local rider shows up and we chat for a while. Like in a flashmob, all the racers suddenly show up. I am feeling better. I like to watch the sleek racing machines, watch the tire types, see how fit the racers look. Thomas joins me and we chat a bit, talking about trails condition.
My name gets called and I align for the start. John Mackenzie, who won the first race in Laggan, is there. We salute each other. I look for other familiar faces and see only two. I feel like I could grab a second place at this race, but I am just unsure about two other people that seem quite competitive but I cannot put a rank on them. Fifteen seconds to the start. In my mind the race already started. I check the proper gear is engaged and grab the brakes to block the bike in a ready to sprint position. The whistle unleashes the racers like furious horses. Again, I lead the start and the first two minutes of the race until the climb gets steeper and enters a singletrack.

The climb
John chose to attack just before it got steeper. I let him lead, I usually like to stay a bit behind to see what happens and I still have plenty of time to fight back. I am racing the climb out of my skin. I feel like I am going to throw up, but hold on, walking on the thin line between maximum effort and burn out. My body begs me to take it easier, to relax and just maintain the gap between me and the rest of the pack. The race is only three times a seven kilometers lap, so I am ready to give it all. Later during post-race analysis I saw that I was over 95% of my maximum heart beat rate for more than half of the race. At the end of the singletrack the slope gets really steep and rocky. The effort is not worth the pace that I can get out of it, so I jump off the bike and push it for a few meters, until the singletrack reaches a flat fireroad. Sometimes it makes sense to do that. I did not lose time, my gap with John is the same. Looking over my shoulder I see the other racers in the climb, clinging on to their handlebars as they struggle to climb. I coast the downhill fireroad, recovering from the climb and preparing for the section to come: a murky and rooty wood that the night rain has turned into a muddy hell. I know what lines I am going to take, and I will just try to stay on the bike.

The woods
I leave the fireroad and enter the woods. I catch John Mackenzie who falls ahead of me, at the exact same section that saw so many riders falling during practice, including me. He quickly stands up and pushes his bike over a few meters before jumping on the pedals again. I just pick the safest but slowest line and gingerly tackle this section. I did not try to overtake him, I had not enough speed and flow at this moment and I did not want to feel the pressure of a technically better rider behind me. I manage to stay on the bike through the woods and negotiate a steep part at the end, full of off-camber roots and rocks camouflaged by a layer of mud. While I congratulate myself for getting through this, my front wheel suddenly skids away and leaves me rolling on the ground, hitting a tree with the back of my head. I immediately jump on my feet, reach my bike and keep going.

The top
The pain in my head adds to the pain in my legs. Fuck the pain. It is only an information that reaches my brain, right? And my brain has something else to focus, namely climbing another fireroad and not letting the leader go. I realise my front wheel is bent badly. It is still rolling, though, and the brake rotor is straight so it could have been worse (after a visit to the mechanic the wheel will appear to be bent beyond repair). We leave the fireroad to enter another woody section, though the ground is hardpack there, with only a few very soft sections that leave me pushing the bike for a few meters.

We cross two water streams, climb through woods, and enter another climbing fireroad. John is not too far ahead. I see him frequently looking behind, indicating he is pushing hard to build distance between me and him. There is nobody in sight behind me. The fireroad leads to two very uneven downhill singletrack sections filled with rocks and roots, now shiny and slippery from the night rain. This section has seen me go over the handlebar yesterday so I keep it safe today. I keep control for most of this part, putting a foot down once in a while.

The end
A small crowd cheers us with shouts and handclaps as we leave the singletrack and enter another fireroad that leads to the bottom of the course. This is better than any caffeine gel. Everything is rather flat and smooth now, so I just cruise my way down. I hit my brakes hard as I get into the U turn at the start of the loop. I did not anticipate the turn enough and lose almost all my momentum. I stand on the pedals and hammer on to reach race pace again.

All pedalling resistance suddenly goes away with a 'click' sound. I look behind me and see the chain lying on the ground. I keep my head cool and flip the bike upside-down to repair. I have a quick link and a chain tool. The only problem is that I do not know how to put a quick link properly. The lack of lucidity provoked by the effort does not help. Even with a few very kind spectators helping me, we do not manage to repair the chain. I see the rest of the pack overtaking me minutes later. I persevere for another few minutes but it is hopeless.

I am walking down the road back to the car. I try to think positively about this pitiful race. I had all the tools to repair the chain in a few minutes, but lacked the skill to do it. At least it is a good lesson for the future. I could see my fitness is very decent, now I just need to get my technical and mechanical skills to the same level. Finally, the series points are scored over 5 out of 6 races, so there is definitely room for this. I enjoy some warm tea while watching the racers cross the finish line. They look knackered, Thomas is full of cramps. Several people did not finish in the sport category, including one with a broken saddle. This was clearly a tough race, both physically and technically!

Thanks to Alan Forsyth for the race pictures.

Thomas is chilling out at the hotel

Monday, 2 May 2016

Video: Scottish Cross Country round 2, Dunoon

Hi folks, I made this video this week end at Dunoon for the second round of the Scottish Cross Country Series. Very nice course, very challenging! I did not finish the race, I will tell you what happened tomorrow in a race report.

Click here to watch the video on Youtube (available in HD)