By Gregor Brown in Doha, Qatar
Jean-Pierre Heynderickx, directeur sportif of Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator, had the unfortunate experience on Thursday of discovering one of his riders had died in his sleep. Frederiek Nolf passed away last night in Doha, Qatar, of an apparent heart attack.
Heynderickx recalled the moment he found his rider in his bed, unresponsive.
"I was the one to wake up the riders. The first room I passed was [teammate Kristof] Goddaert and Nolf's, at 9:00. I rang it and Goddaert opened the door. I passed the other rooms and returned back to their room," said Heynderickx.
Heynderickx found that the two were still in bed. He told them to get up and prepare for the fifth stage of the Tour of Qatar, February 1 to 6.
"There was no reaction from Nolf. I went to shake his leg and there was no reaction. I turned on the lights and then I saw that it was not good. He did not move, I felt his hand and it was cold."
Heynderickx confirmed Nolf was lying as if he was sleeping. He told Goddaert to leave the room and he went to find a doctor. The doctor confirmed Nolf was dead.
"I was the last man to see the two last night, at 10:15. We were joking around. Nolf called his parents and said, 'Tomorrow, I will race hard, I will give it a try.' There were no signs that he was ill or sick."
The riders are tested four times a year in Leuven, Belgium. Heynderickx called the doctor this morning. The doctor looked over his cardiograms and said that he could not find any abnormalities."
Nolf became professional in 2008 with Topsport Vlaanderen. As a junior he had very good results and his most successful year was 2005. Among others, he won the overall of the Route de l'Avenir that year and finished second in the Ronde van Vlaanderen for juniors.
The neutralised stage started at 14:05 local time with a minute of silence. All riders were wearing a black mourning band.