Craven cites fuzzy reasoning for Sport Vlaanderen's beard ban

As the owner/operator of one of the more recognisable beards in pro cycling, Israel Cycling Academy's Dan Craven could be expected to have a strong opinion about the recent news that Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise director Walter Planckaert banned facial hair from his team.

"I'm taking this measure for the elegance of cycling," Planckaert explained to Het Nieuwsblad in announcing his decision. "We're a cycling team with riders, not motocross riders or rugby players. Snot and food leftovers in the beard of a rider in action, it's nasty."

In instituting the ban, Planckaert suggested that a little five o'clock shadow would still be allowed, but any rider opposed to the prohibition on full beards would need to find another team.

Craven, who has sported a full beard at least as far back as his days with Rapha Condor in 2011, obviously took exception to Planckaert's taking exception to bearded riders.

"There are more important things in the cycling world than banning beards because of what they look like," the 34-year-old former Namibian champion told Cyclingnews' Stephen Farrand after Thursday's finish of Coppa Sabatini.

"I mean, if that's the thing you think is important, then I think that's a problem. I mean, f*ck it, if you don't like beards, you don't like beards, but to actually go so far as to make a rule about it, then you're kind of fooling yourself and ignoring bigger problems."

Craven, an outspoken fan favourite, signed with Israel Cycling Academy in 2016 after two years with Team Europcar. He grabbed the spotlight later that summer at the Olympic Games in Rio when he used social media to poll fans on whether he should take a last-minute spot in the time trial, and then live-tweeted from the road race [it was actually his girlfriend, ed.]

"The whole thing with beards is it makes people stand out and recognisable," he said. "And if you think that a little bit of snot, which is normal and natural in cycling, is so bad that you want to lose the recognisability of a few people amongst the peloton of lemmings, you know, all skinny, clean-shaven people…

"In a peloton of where everyone looks the same, having a little bit of something different, how is that bad?" Craven asked. "Every time that someone is f*cked, in a crash or their beard is full of snot, that's what photographers gravitate toward. That's what they want to see."

2018 contract talks are still up in the air

Although Craven is the most senior rider on the relatively young Cycling Academy team and has established himself as a leader in the team bus, if not on the road, his role with the team going forward has not yet been decided.

The team got another budget increase for next season, and with its successful push to have the Giro d'Italia start in Jerusalem next year, Cycling Academy has been bolstering its roster in hopes of gaining its first Grand Tour start. Ben Hermans has been added from BMC Racing and Ruben Plaza from Orica-Scott.

Craven, meanwhile, has been dealing with a nagging injury throughout the season and only competed in 26 race days so far. The situation has not left him in the strongest of positions for negotiating a new contract.

"No, it hasn't been sorted out yet," he said when asked about his 2018 plans and if he'll return with Cycling Academy. "This is a team that I'm very happy in. I feel like I'm at home here, but I've had an absolutely shocking year so I don't know what's happening yet next year. I'm speaking to the boss after this set of races, and we'll see, but there's the Commonwealth Games next year in Australia, and that's something that I definitely want to do."

Craven joined the team when it was still a third-tier program, and he's watched it rise and grow each of his two seasons there. He'd obviously like to keep the ride going as the team makes another leap.

"If you look at the way they've ridden up through the ranks, it can only be exciting and big and cool," he said. "I would like to think I played a small part, and even if I don't race for them next year I'll still definitely be involved somehow, but that all remains to be seen."

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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.