Cast your mind back to the last two winners of the Tour de France and you think of Wiggins imperious on his time trial bike, and Froome riding away from the field on Mont Ventoux.
But if you’re anything like me, you also think of two alarmingly skinny blokes dressed in yellow, all elbows and knees, with skeletal upper bodies and gaunt faces.
It might look at bit ungainly and, quite frankly, pretty unhealthy, but a serious amount of sports science and computer analysis goes into looking like that.
Of course a winner of the Tour de France is by definition an incredibly finely tuned specimen, capable of a level of performance far beyond us mere mortals, and so Wiggins and Froome are obviously extreme examples.
But it’s not just the pro’s who’ve decided that skin and bone is the way to go to eek out a bit of extra performance on the bike.
There are those among us who chose to deny themselves the simple pleasure of pies, pastries, beer, wine and any number of delicious and slightly less than healthy foods and drinks. Their willpower is to be admired, as is their commitment to the freakish body shape of the serious cyclist; muscular and well defined lower half, with the torso of a badly drawn stick man perched on top.
Each morsel that passes their lips is calculated, and they forgo all those simply culinary pleasures which are enough to make most of us reach for our knife and fork, subsisting instead on an apparent diet of strong coffee, sparkling San Pellegrino, and peaches.
Some of us are not equipped to adhere to such a monastic life.
My own personal nemesis – the humble and delicious pastry – is poison to their perfectly planned regime.
Through this truly impressive marshalling of will power, motivation and self denial, and regular after dinner sessions of self flagellation on the turbo trainer, these admirable examples begin to resemble a walking x-ray – clothes hanging off their angles, and looking like a stiff breeze might get the better of them.
Without the protective padding of fat that many of us carry to keep us warm, they are forced to layer up with clothing at the start of the mildest of winter rides, to the point where you half expect Sir Ranulph Fiennes to appear at any moment and declare the expedition officially underway.
But this self-denier is on a quest for greater performance and so is bent on making all the right sacrifices. They also want to look and feel like a pro.
All the while, the rest of us become ever more aware that the more timber we’re carrying around our middle, the more we have to carry up the next hill too.
Depending on your point of view, our stick thin friend has either mastered mind and body to the point where they have achieved the body fat percentage and the state of mind of a pro athlete, or they’ve lost the plot and cultivated a mildly concerning eating disorder.
Either way, you can’t deny they’re quick on the bike.
As we ride with our calorie controlling companion, at each climb he swiftly becomes a dot on the horizon as we gulp, wheeze and contort ourselves across the bike. At moments like these it’s important to remember that we’re carrying an extra 10 kilo’s up the hill so of course he’s faster than we are – that’s simple physics.
I like to think he’s probably not pushing himself any harder than we are, in fact, who’s to say we’re not the ones really pushing ourselves to new levels of (relative) performance while he glides along on easy street, lightweight and effortless.
Ultimately, it’s the old ‘bags-of-sugar’ defence.
Think of all those bags of Tate & Lyle you have strapped around your waist every time you ride with him. While we put in some serious hard work, this guy has got it easy.