I love the idea of getting my training done before I get to work. And, having counted the weeks to the Tour of Flanders, I have realised that I need to be disciplined and regular in my riding. I've even got a plan.
So today I set off in the pre-7am half light, spirits dampened by a light drizzle but hoping that the optimistic weather forecast - drying out - would prove correct. I took a straw poll and decided to ignore the pessimistic, shower-laden BBC. I also decided to ignore the knobbly tyres on my cyclocross bike - after all a bit of cushioning on the road surfaces can't go amiss, can it?
My route starts and ends in beautiful countryside but the most direct route skims Greater Manchester, taking me through its satellite towns; Royton, Oldham, Ashton and Stalybridge. The roads are lined with the red brick terraces I remember as a child growing up in the Manchester suburb of Audenshaw. The dark, wet gleam of the tarmac; puddled and potholed is particularly familiar.
I head out through Littleborough and Milnrow first. Turning my back on the Pennines and towards the towns. Urban cycling, weaving through traffic, lifting the front wheel over the chunks missing from the road surface. Checking that the blink blink blind of my rear light is still visible to the streaming traffic.
The weather turns grim. Rain sheeting down as I climb towards Oldham. There's a headwind. It's kind of comforting in a 'now it can't get any worse' way. I curse my optimism. This is, to use the technical term, minging. A grey, wet whipping with occasional gusts that shove me across the road. I wonder about the etymology of 'minging' and decide it must have been coined in honour of Ming the Merciless. The lashing I am getting shows no mercy. Slowly but surely it is finding every weak spot in my gear and seeping in. Little fingers of cold prod at my ankles and even my legs are not immune.
8am and three duffel-coated shuffling school children catch my eye. They have JD Sports carrier bags slung over their shoulders, maybe they're off to some pre-school sports session. Maybe it's just what's in at the moment. They're bleary and slightly crumpled looking.
The world is waking up, going to school, going to work. As I hit Ashton I realise that the light has shifted. It's brighter and the rain is more heavy drizzle than drops. Unusually my feet are cold. I swear by my winter boots with thick mohair socks, but water has seeped down my legs into them and is refusing to warm up. I make myself eat a bar, it tastes cold and far too healthy.
From Ashton it's easy to Stalybridge, the gateway, in my youth, from city to countryside. But before I can head out for the hills, there's the climb to Mottram. This is a deceptive road. It's lined with houses and trees so how can it be so soul sapping? I turn my legs slowly until it tops out. It's the first of the three climbs I tick off on my way to Buxton.
From there I head into the hills and a different kind of riding. The second hill takes me from Charlestown to New Mills up tiny hedged lanes which were probably originally just tracks to join the farms to the valleys. The weather, if not fine, has definitely let up. It doesn't quite disappear, shoving me with the odd gust of wind now and then, but there's no longer water running down my nose.
I regroup at the start of the canal section from New Mills to Whalley Bridge. A waffle before I set off cheers me up. Just Long Hill to go then, taking me out of Whalley Bridge up into Buxton.
Long Hill is an accurate description. It does not let up for forty minutes of climbing. I curse the pack on my back (laptop, clothes, sandwiches). I curse my knobbly tyres. I curse the whole idiotic idea as I winch, painfully slowly, up and up. This is, of course, what training is about. About getting fitter. Stupid pack and knobbly tyres have added a bit of resistance to this session. The mantra for these winter rides is 'my summer self will thank me for this'. It had better.
At the top of Long Hill the sky brightens. There's even a small patch of blue between the ragged clouds. I sail down a gorgeous roller coaster of a descent into the town. I'm always amazed at how far you can ride on a bike. The app on my phone says 64km today. 983m of climb. That'll do for a start.
I unlock my shop and peel off my wet kit. In a matter of minutes I'm dressed in my knitted best, ready to open the doors to my Buxton clientele. I love this transformation!
When I get my new Granfondo it'll be fun do to this on an actual road bike with skinny wheels and long haul attitude! I can't wait to introduce it to the joys of commuting over the hills and a great way off.