By Gregor Brown in Doha, Qatar
Cycling legend Eddy Merckx reminded the public to stay respectful of Belgian Frederiek Nolf and his grieving family until doctors perform an autopsy. The 21-year-old of Team Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator passed away early Thursday morning in Doha, Qatar, of a suspected heart attack.
"Speculation? He is a cyclist, so you know there will always be that. We have to wait for the autopsy for more information," Merckx said to Cyclingnews.
Nolf's body will be transferred tomorrow from Qatar to Brussels, via Paris. Doctors will perform an autopsy in Belgium.
The Topsport team withdrew from the race after Nolf's death. The race continued Thursday with a neutralised stage of 30 kilometres. Friday is the final stage, 121 kilometres from Sealine Beach to Doha.
There is speculation that drugs or another unknown cause led to Nolf's death. The team reported that all cardiograms performed during the previous season were normal and that the rider was in good health prior to his death.
"The team is well organised and very strict in all aspects. Topsport Vlaanderen keeps its young riders on a programme that is stable and not overly hard."
Nolf turned professional last year with Topsport Vlaanderen. The Tour of Qatar was his first competition of 2009. He finished 90th in Wednesday's stage four to Madinat Al Shamal.
Merckx is the technical sponsor for the team and a representative of the Tour of Qatar.