VDB out of danger

Frank Vandenbroucke (Acqua e Sapone)

Frank Vandenbroucke (Acqua e Sapone) (Image credit: Sirotti)

Belgian cyclist Frank Vandenbroucke is out of immediate danger, but still in intensive care following an apparent suicide attempt. Vandenbroucke, 32, is currently in the Fornaroli hospital near Milan. According to Vandenbroucke's Acqua & Sapone team spokesperson Ivan de Paolis, 'VDB', who had been suffering from depression for years, was distraught because his wife, Sara Pinacci, had left him. "Frank has been abandoned. He no longer has a wife, he lives alone. Only the team is by his side," said de Paolis.

There were conflicting reports on the nature of his injuries, with the Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws reporting that Vandenbroucke overdosed on prescription medication while the Associated Press quotes the Acqua & Sapone team director Palmiro Masciarelli as saying the rider tried to cut a vein but suffered only "harmless cuts" on his arm. Vandenbroucke is still in intensive care but conscious and out of danger, according to all reports.

According to his psychologist, Jef Brouwers, who was interviewed on Belgian VRT television and had recently been in close contact with the rider, "Things were going very badly with Frank. I could no longer help him. The problems with his knee also played a serious role. The knee is what has always impeded him. He could not ride as he wanted, even after the operation."

Frustrations over his career and his personal life had recently escalated. "The doctors could not determine what the problem [with his knee] was," Brouwers continued. "The last few days it had been really terrible. He had terrible difficulties. The people who I called in Italy could also no longer help him."

Alone, his career in jeopardy, his family gone, and in a deep depression, Vandenbroucke was in a precarious situation. "He had lost everything," Brouwers explained. "Frank was entirely alone. Privately it was also bad for him. He lived alone in a house in Milan."

Vandenbroucke, once considered Belgium's best young prodigy, became a professional at the age of 19 in 1994, and by 1999 had accumulated many prestigious wins including his first Classic, the Liège-Bastogne-Liège. But during that banner year, 'VDB' ran into trouble with the first of several doping scandals.

In 1999, 'VDB' admitted that he had been involved with Bernard 'Dr. Mabuse' Sainz, a horse breeder who was one of several people charged with supplying doping products to cyclists, along with his then team-mate Phillipe Gaumont. Vandenbroucke was let go when he claimed he was under the impression the products were homeopathic and not banned.

In 2002, a police raid on his home turned up several banned substances, and he served a six month suspension after which his career was never the same. Troubles with drunk driving and domestic disputes replaced victories on the bike, and a nagging knee injury cut short a briefly promising return to form that say VDB place second in the 2003 Tour of Flanders. Throughout the past several years, Vandenbroucke has struggled with depression.

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