Cycling | One comment
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Belgian dies on holiday in Senegal
Frank Vandenbroucke has died while on holiday in Senegal. Reports in Belgium have said that 34-year-old Belgian cyclist was found in his hotel room and that early reports indicate that he died of a blood clot.
However, Vandenbroucke suffered from depression and tried two years ago to commit suicide after his wife said she was divorcing him. Belgian media suggested the rider had suffered a pulmonary embolism.
“Sadly this has only partly come as a surprise, for we knew he was not doing too well,” said his uncle, former racer Jean-Luc Vandenbroucke. “He was up and down, both in terms of his health and his morale. He left for Senegal on Sunday.”
Vandenbroucke was out of contract after leaving Cinelli-Down Under but was looking for a team in 2010 just a few weeks ago.
In 2002, Vandenbroucke was twice stopped by police and discovered to be under the influence of alcohol at the wheel of a car. In another incident that year, a police search at his home uncovered a large quantity of doping substances.
Frank Vandenbroucke could hardly have been anything else but a pro cyclist – his dad was a pro and his uncle, Jean Luc, was a junior world champion and pro road star. Belgian novice champion in 1991; junior champion in ’92, “Franky Boy” moved seamlessly through the ranks.
Frank Vandenbroucke made his professional debut in 1994 and recorded 51 victories, including the 1999 Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic, his career highlight.
Frank VDB was one the greatest talents of Belgian cycling in the nineties. His first pro win came in ’94 – a stage in the Tour of the Med. By the end of the following season he was winning Paris-Brussels. In 1996 he took Laigueglia, the Scheldeprijs, Plouay and his first win in stage race: Tour of Austria (four stage wins).
The following season he was winning events as diverse as the De Panne beach mountain bike race, Cologne and the Tour of Luxembourg. Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Nice fell to him in ’98. And in ’99 things went even better; Het Volk, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and two Vuelta stages – a majestic season.
But in that campaign were sewn the seeds of his long and painful slide. In the Worlds at Verona, he was the protected rider on the Belgian squad – with the likes of Johan Museuuw and Peter van Petegem at his service. Frank crashed, his teammates asked if he was OK, he said he was, but the truth was that he had fractured both wrists and couldn’t pull on the ‘bars.
Museuuw and Van Petegem were furious, rightly saying that Vandenbroucke should have levelled with his compatriots and given them their freedom, instead of having them work for a lame duck.
It was never the same again, he had team problems, women problems, driving problems and – drugs problems; Frank said that the pharmaceutical concoctions found by the police in his fridge were for his dog. The classic cartoon in the Miroir du Cyclisme from the time had a race podium, on it were Simoni’s dentist, Rumsas’s mother-in-law and, on the top step, with gold medal around it’s neck, Frank’s dog.
Frank’s volatile, on/off relationship with slim beauty, Sarah, was top Belgian tabloid fodder – his dad always maintained that the rot started, the day Frank met her.
This year seemed different, though, Nico Mattan – a man who Frank liked and respected – signed him up for Cinelli-Down Under; he was training well and even winning – but the wheels came off again.
2009 started auspiciously when Frank teamed up with Nico Mattan at Cinelli/Down Under. The last headline was that he would be working with top Italian coach Aldo Sassi, they were going to put Frank’s blood values on the ‘net to try and help the process of getting a ride with a team.
Despite the wilderness years, police dramas and embarrassments, Frank was still hugely popular in Belgium. His fan club was called the ‘Franky Boys’ and there was rejoicing among them, this year at Frank’s return to his winning ways.
I well remember, a few years ago, being at Het Volk when Frank was with Fassa Bortolo. The race was cancelled due to snow and ice on the course. Viktor had a hunch that Frank would maybe turn up at his mum and dad’s cafe down at Ploegstert. The hire car was duly pointed south, and sure enough, near Kuurne, we came upon the Fassa boys in two lines, drilling down the concrete section towards Ploegstert.
There was a freezing block headwind, but the string was sitting at 40 kph, lead by – Frank. He looked lean and was chatting away and joking to Juan Antonio Flecha as they sliced through the icy blast. Whilst his team mates wore blue team issue Fassa winter hats, Frank wore a grey Tibetan style woolly hat, tie cords flapping in the wind. He looked different, cool, fit and in charge of his team.
We arrived at the cafe first, but the Fassa boys weren’t far behind; the espressos were lined up on the bar, there were brief chats, hand shakes, then Frank gave the signal – and they were off again.
He was top ten at Kuurne next day, but that season fizzled out, too. Belgian guys all have their VDB anecdote, soigneur Etienne Illegems tells the story of Frank’s first six; “the big riders said to Frank that he would take so many laps, do this, do that. Frank was still a teenager but he replied – “I’ll be doing just what I want !”
Then there was the time we met the old soigneur who looked after both Frank and Museuuw – he explained to us that as well as his bike racing talents, VDB was one of the best break dancers in West Flanders! After a while, nothing surprised you about Frank.
In his early days as a pro – when most youngsters are keeping their heads down – Frank would drive the team mechanics crazy, insisting that his bike should be as light as possible with all the ‘trick’ titanium bolts replacing team issue.
Perhaps ex-pro Chris Tonge’s landlord summed up the root of Frank’s problems best; “he was living the life of a top pro bike rider from when he was a young teenager – it was too much, too soon!”
VDB’s psychologist, Jef Brouwers, compared VDB to Michael Jackson, VDB was no extrovert, but very introverted.
“VDB was a virtuoso” – Patrick Lefevere
“The James Dean of his generation” – Le Soir.
Frank Vandenbroucke; protege, star, troubled man, character, eccentric, winner, idol – we’ll miss you.
Frank Vandenbroucke rode for Cinelli-Down Under earlier in 2009.
Frank Vandenbroucke (Cofidis) en route to his first Vuelta victory on stage 16.
Frank Vandenbroucke in sprint with Michelle Bartoli n 1998.
Frank Vandenbroucke at the finish of the 2003 Ronde van Vlaanderen.
Drugs found by Vandenbroucke’s bed?
Published: October 13, 09:56,
VDB could be a victim of drug mix and/or burglary. One day after the tragic news about Frank Vandenbroucke’s death in a hotel room in Senegal, an investigation has yet to take place on the possible reasons for the passing of the Belgian legend. Early reports indicated that the rider died of a blood clot in his lungs (pulmonary embolism), and while this could be true, French newspaper L’Equipe has this morning reported that witnesses spoke of several medications lying beside his bed.
According to the paper, investigators found insuline, a treatment of diabetes, some sleeping pills called Stilnox and an anti-anxiety medication by the name of Xanax.
Vandenbroucke was not known to suffer from diabetes, but insulin is known to be used in cycling for doping purposes. Stilnox also has a reputation in the sport, as it is reportedly used a s a drug in large quantities and mixed with alcohol. Former French pro, Philippe Gaumont, detailed in his book “Prisonnier du dopage” (“Prisoner of doping”) that he and several former Cofidis team-mates including VDB took Stilnox as a party drug in 1999.
Furthermore, the French paper reported that Vandenbroucke could have been the victim of a burglary. Two cell phones, as well as 300 Euro in cash were said to have disappeared from his room.
An autopsy as well as further investigation by Senegalese police authorities are expected to shed some light into what feels like the another tragic death in the world of cycling after the passing of Marco Pantani in similar circumstances in a hotel room in Rimini, Italy, five years ago.
Frank Vandenbroucke rides again at Het Volk, four years after winning the race himself. The Belgian rode a full Spring Classics campaign in 2003 while riding for Quick Step.
Frank Vandenbroucke (Belgium)
6 November 1974 – 12 October 2009
1999 Omloop “Het Volk”
1999 Two Vuelta a España stage wins
1993 Lotto – Caloi (Belgium)
1994 Lotto – Caloi (Belgium)
1995 Lotto – Isoglass (Belgium)
1995 Mapei – GB (Italy)
1996 Mapei – GB (Italy)
1997 Mapei – GB (Italy)
1998 Mapei – Bricobi (Italy)
1999 Cofidis, le Crédit par Téléphone (France)
2000 Cofidis, le Crédit par Téléphone (France)
2001 Lampre – Daikin (Italy)
2002 Domo – Farm Frites (Belgium)
2003 Quick Step – Davitamon (Belgium)
2004 Fassa Bortolo (Italy)
2004 MrBookmaker.com – Palmans (Belgium)
2005 MrBookmaker.com – SportsTech (Belgium)
2006 Unibet.com (Belgium)
2006 Acqua e Sapone (Italy)
2007 Acqua e Sapone – Caffè Mokambo (Italy)
2008 Mitsubishi – Jartazi (Estonia)
2009 Cinelli – Down Under (Australia)