Frank Vandenbroucke won a stage at Boucles de l'Artois in Mont Saint Eloi, France during his final year of racing this season. The Belgian had been riding for Cinelli-Down Under at the race, where he finished third overall, but as was the case on several occasions Vandenbroucke and the team parted ways before season’s end.
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Family only partly surprised at death
Former professional racer and sport director Jean-Luc Vandenbroucke says his nephew Frank Vandenbroucke was not doing well in the days prior to his death. Early reports indicate the 34-year-old Belgian cyclist died of a blood clot before being found in his hotel room.
"Sadly this has only partly come as a surprise, for we knew he was not doing too well," Jean-Luc Vandenbroucke told AFP. "He was up and down, both in terms of his health and his morale. He left for Senegal on Sunday."
Jean-Luc’s comments come as professionals past and present around the world pay their respects to the late rider. Former Fassi Bortolo team-mate Tom Danielson said the Belgian would be greatly missed via Twitter.
“So sad to hear about Frank Vandenbroucke. I did a year with him on Fassa Bortolo and he was like no other. He will be missed greatly,” wrote Danielson.
Former Discovery Channel rider Matthew White said many exploited the rider’s softer side. "In think that in a country like Belgium, where cycling stars are looked at like gods, people certainly took advantage of him,” said White, who is now a sport director at Garmin-Slipstream. “They took advantage of his nice side as well - he was quite a caring and giving guy and like a lot of stars, people definitely used and abused him.
"He was one of those guys who found it hard to make a decision about the best way to go and he made a few wrong decisions in his career," he said.
Cyclingnews will add reactions from those within the industry throughout the day.
Jean-Luc Vandenbroucke, Frank's uncle, told Cyclingnews:
Back in 1994, he persuaded Frank to sign his first contract with the Belgian Lotto team which he worked for as sports director. "I talked with his father on the phone," Jean-Luc Vandenbroucke declared on the website of La Dernière Heure. "He told me that Frank had died in a hotel room in Senegal. He didn't have more details."
In Frank Vandenbroucke's biography the rider explained that he didn't enjoy the time he spent together with his uncle, eventually breaking up his contract and signing with the much bigger Mapei team. Uncle Vandenbroucke wasn't suprised by the death of his nephew. "Sadly enough this comes only as half a surprise. We knew it wasn't going well. Frank always had his highs and lows, both on the physical as on the psychical side. We were prepared to the fact things could end up the wrong way with his chaotic lifestyle. Automatically you start thinking about Pantani. But I repeat that we don't know the exact cause of his dead. It remains dramatic. He was still so young," Jean-Luc Vandenbroucke said.
Tom Danielson, former team-mate, wrote on Facebook:
“So sad to hear about Frank Vandenbroucke. I did a year with him on Fassa Bortolo and he was like no other. He will be missed greatly.”
Sabrina Mattan, speaking to media on behalf of husband, former professional and VDB’s friend Nico Mattan:
“Frank was Nico’s life. He wanted Frank to be happy. Nico was also pleased that the performance of Frank got better. It is hard to believable that Frank is dead.”
Lucien Van Impe, told Sporza.be:
“I am not well. I cannot believe it. I recently spoke to him; he looked good, fresh and cheerful.
“Sometimes I differed with Frank’s opinion, but that is solved automatically. Frank was a nice guy and a huge talent. I see no rider with the same qualities as Frank.
“There is so much went wrong with the boy. He had such class. What would have happened if he had stayed on the right path?”
Rudi Dubois, Cinelli-Down Under team manager, told HLB.be:
“I was at a meeting when the text message and phone calls poured in. At first there was disbelief, but you cannot hide the truth. I’m really too emotional to give a dignified response.”
Matthew White, current Garmin-Slipstream sport director, former Discovery Channel rider, told Cyclingnews:
"I would have picked that suicide may have been the cause of death. He certainly had his big highs and big lows. It's definitely sad that he has died."
"He was a special guy but he was a really nice guy. He had his problems over the years, and it actually looked like he was getting a grip of things in the last year or two.
"It's weird news that he died after an accident like that. People wouldn't have been so surprised if he had killed himself, because things were going badly there for a few years. It's quite upsetting.
"In think that in a country like Belgium, where cycling stars are looked at like gods, people certainly took advantage of him. They took advantage of his nice side as well - he was quite a caring and giving guy and like a lot of stars, people definitely used and abused him.
"He was one of those guys who found it hard to make a decision about the best way to go and he made a few wrong decisions in his career."
Psychologist Jef Brouwers, who treated Vandenbroucke since 2001, told Sporza:
"I'm beaten and powerless that it did happen in the end. Nothing suggested that Frank would come to his end so suddenly. It had been hard to get in touch with him lately, but for no a specific reason. He wasn't struggling but he was really annoyed by the fact that he, despite all the promises, wasn't going to find a team [for next season].
"This year, Frank enjoyed the crits he rode. They were heydays for him. He was sharp and hugely popular with the public."
"Frank's life is a little bit comparable with that of major pop stars like Michael Jackson. With all the stories about him. But ultimately Frank was fragile and very sweet, charming and grateful. He suddenly disappeared and then turned back almost begging for help. It was a coming and going, from the deepest depths back to the top, and then back down again."
"Frank was kind and wise. It was a challenge to be his psychologist and not a friend, with his strong personality. He was rather introverted. He was not the podium man he always seemed to be."
French cycling doctor Bernard Sainz had a huge influence on VDB, a collaboration Brouwers didn't understand. "For me it was almost impossible to bring Frank back on the path of a full recovery. I never understood the link with Sainz. I don't know what Sainz did, but he got into Frank and you didn't get him back out. Mentally he had Frank in his power."
"The last time I spoke with Frank was two weeks ago. He told me that I had always kept him alive." (BD)
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