In this day and age of marginal gains, where aerodynamism and go-faster skin-suits rule the roost, it's reassuring to see some pro cyclists throw caution – and hair – to the wind by sporting the kinds of beards you'd normally see in a Brooklyn pizza parlour or a pop-up Welsh-Thai fusion café in East London.
Jerome Cousin's expert stage 5 win in Paris-Nice on Thursday not only saw the Direct-Energie journeyman pick-pocket Nils Politt of Katusha and defy the onslaught of the peloton – it was a reminder of the fuzzy Frenchman's supreme bearded agility.
Complete with eyebrows to rival an unkempt Cara Delevigne, Cousin's caveman-chic look – think a scrawny Sebastien Chabal without the Rapunzel locks – underlined his candidature as the best bearded being in the peloton.
But if the Frenchman is clearly flavour of the month, who are Cousin's main rivals?
Dang – talk about Hot Fuzz! The American – previously best known for his array of asymmetrical hair-dos and a nasty leg-shattering crash – is really upping his beard game this season. Now, the Van Dyke-Ducktail hybrid is not something all of us can pull off – unless it's one of those fake comedy beards from fancy dress shops – but Phinney manages with aplomb. A cut above the rest.
A little lamb dressed up in muttonchops, Phinney's fellow American and team-mate Howes is taking his geek-chic to another level with this designer look. Strade Bianche mud adds extra piquancy – as does the zany team colours, which pick up the pinkness of his bee-stung lips. A commendable effort worthy of something you'd see on, er, the Big Bang Theory.
The Lithuanian really grew at Ag2R-La Mondiale last year – although not in ways you'd first imagine. His rather dishevelled piratical look – known in grooming circles as the Bandholz or, simply, the Full Beard (aka Betty White) – was perhaps the most stand-out thing about Bagdonas in 2017. But fifth place in Le Samyn recently shows that he's doing his best this year to grow in the saddle as well as on his face.
When he's not asking out girls in elaborate time trial charades in Tuscany, the Belgian clearly takes his bearding seriously. His offering is thick and dense below and thin up-top, with a marked absence of sprouting south of the mouth giving him a hint of George Michael.
Laurens Ten Dam
Also known as the Musette Beard – because of its food-storing potential – the Dutchman's growth has got many of the fairer sex salivating, though clearly not as much as Ten Dam himself. Best doused by a bidon before touching.
The Italian's designer stubble suffers two-fold: from its ginger tint and its below-the-lip double-strip invisibility. It's patchiness recalls Keanu Reeves – albeit not as much as Damien Howsen's salt-and-pepper(-but-primarily-salt) growth.
The UAE rider's inclusion in this list will raise eyebrows and create divisions. Purists will deny that Mirza's even qualifies as a beard, while left-leaning stubble enthusiasts will simply admire his obvious dedication to persistent trimming. In truth, this Craig David-inspired Balbo Beard is little more than a goatee-moustache combo but merits inclusion for its levels of originality and sinisterness.
The people's favourite is a man whose timeless beard has become an integral part of the peloton furniture over the years. Thick, slick and bushy all-round, this is a beard which – despite the above – needs no real introduction, and, ever since Geschke's solo win at Pra Loup in 2015, has been a calling card for the dependable Sunweb domestique.
Simon Geschke: Hands up if your beard is brilliant
Image credit: Imago
In fact, Geschke has become so synonymous with his beard that the German has even launched his own range of grooming products...
But the winner is… Geoffrey Soupe
Geschke's grooming range may well be the bee's knees, but such gimmickry not only suggests a level of conceit but also infers that man's facial growth is something that can be played with and given a role. Even acknowledging its mere presence on his face, let alone coming up with fanciful ways of maintaining the look, belittles Geschke's service to beardom. It's as if Geschke is accepting that his beard has something of a novelty value about it as opposed to any intrinsic life or destiny of its own. It's an unwilling party in the whole charade.
If Geschke's path is a sell-out, that followed by Geoffrey Soupe is more akin to a total alignment with nature that goes beyond the realm of anything religious. Soupe doesn't sport a beard: the beard sports Soupe. It's as if the rugged Cofidis pilot has become a vessel for the transportation, nay charitable display, of the whole concept that is a beard.
If Soupe was a character in Game of Thrones he wouldn't just be Khal Drogo – he'd be the entire Dothraki tribe. Such is the jet-black bushy brilliance of his face, Soupe practically makes Jerome Cousin look clean shaven.
And what about the best moustache?
While we're at it, let's look at that other facial hair dynamic that divides and excites fans of our fine sport. First up and it's that man Geoffrey Soupe again, this time sporting this handlebar monstrosity from his time at FDJ.
You'd think that such a look would have been a thing of the past, but then last season Britain's Dan McLay had his say in what was no doubt the start of a long audition to join the hipsters at Cannondale.
Then there's Australian Mitchel Docker, the rider on a one-man mission of making every month seem like Movember... He's kept up the look even though he's now flown the nest from Orica to, you guessed it, EF Education First-Drapac pb Cannondale.
If Jonathan Vaughters' riders all look as if they'd be right at home in Hoxton, then spare a thought for Trek-Segafredo. Unsurprising for a team sponsored by a coffee brand, most of the riders now look like baristas – ain't that right, Eugenio Alafaci?
But the winner is a man who is less Flat White and more Dutch Old Master. Step forward, Peter 'Van Dyke' Stetina…
Although, before leaving, it's worth remembering that force who got this debate going in the first place. After all, Cousin isn't a stranger to sporting a little 'tache now, is he...?
Jérôme Cousin - Europcar - 2013
Image credit: Eurosport