Cycling and mucky weather. It's not for everyone. Lance, for example, has never had a go at Roubaix, the ride made famous by the fact that the tracks of northern France, where the ride ends, are made up of blocks of pave - cuboid chunks of cobble - which bounce cyclists off the road, crack front forks and leave riders peeing blood for days after. And that can be on a good day. Usually, of course, it's chucking it down with rain and the cobbles make pro riders look like dogs on wet lino. The Prince of Le Tour shakes his head when offered the chance to join cycling's immortals and maybe none of us should blame him.
So, it's been snowing this week, the thermometer by my bed hasn't shown a positive value all week, the little green light notifying possible icy conditions has been working overtime and schools have had to close for fear of the new bogey man - Health and Safety. Undeterred, a few of us roll up at 8 - big D in his road man's beard , CF, JF, K and NS. None too keen to get going we wait expecting others to arrive but they have all pulled their sheets over their heads today and it's just us.
A 45 seems like a good idea and as we roll out along the sea front the mood in the peleton is good. Lots of admiring glances at Big D's Mercian and chatter about the number of layers each of us is wearing.
The first sign that maybe things are not quite right is when the puddles at the edge of the road look like the bottoms of beer glasses - thick ice, undisturbed by any sun for quite some days. The talk turns to times we have fallen off. I point out to JF the place where I hit CF's back wheel and slid half way across the road in my new jacket. How I spent that night in a fever of speculation on how much worse the accident could have been - a broken collarbone at the very least, a cracked wrist or a thud into an oncoming car.
As we turn off the main road and past the duckpond, the temperature drops as if we have gone through a frozen curtain and these least used roads are much icier. I slow down and move to the back of the group and try and find a clean line through. We always joke about this stretch as being like a mini Belgium - open fields, a cruel wind and rotten roads. Roubaix in Essex.
When someone goes down it is no surprise, one of us was due a tumble. The surprise is that it is not me and that it is Big D. And being at the back, I have the perfect view. His front tyre rolls over the ice before he can even see it but his back tyre isn't straight and there it is, he's over. Luckily, he lands firmly on his thigh, and maybe more luckily, he doesn't rip any of his clothes. He stands there and takes our sympathy but you can see he is annoyed with himself. The off a judgement on his ability and while this is not true it is very difficult not to feel that you could have done more, you could have prevented it. But really he couldn't have, not today, not even the great Mercyx - the Cannibal of Roubaix could have stopped that spill.
From that moment on the group is silent, every corner a potential disaster, the shoulders tighten, the handling stiffens and every patch of black on the road is possible ice. When I finally shout that I am heading back, my nerve gone, it is not long before the others agree. The ride back is slow, no idle chatter on the seafront now. An abandon is serious business. We only get out twice a week at this time of the year and having to come back home in all our gear after less than an hour's worth of riding is a depressing thing indeed.
Still, there is always tomorrow, I hear the forecast is supposed to be better...