RIP – VDB: The man whose talent Cut Short

Note: My letter to The VeloNews Editor appears at bottom of post. 

Wrote The Antwerp Gazette, in covering VDB:

“After a thrilling first career section sank the drop in a pool of scandals. A career as a yo-yo, a career highs with lows alternated. You did Vdb but on a bike to see the words are pure class in the mouth. Until the last years he found peace with himself again. As if it was so destined, he had to die as he lived. The rider who had cut short his talent. The man, who as a boy, was already a three letter word that world need no further explanation: VDB. Just 35 and not all killed in the field of honor. The question is: for whom?”

Maar je hoefde Vdb maar op een fiets te zien zitten om de woorden pure klasse in de mond te nemen. Pas het jongste jaar vond hij weer rust en vrede met zichzelf. Alsof het zo was voorbestemd, moest hij sterven zoals hij geleefd had. De renner die zijn talent kort liet knippen. De man die als jongen al een drieletterwoord werd dat wereldwijd geen  verdere uitleg behoefde: Vdb.  Net geen 35 en al gesneuveld op het veld van eer. De vraag is alleen: voor wie?

Le Soir, the Belgian newspaper, described Vandenbroucke as “an exceptional champion, probably the finest Belgian cyclist since Eddy Merckx, Frank Vandenbroucke lived too fast, without noticing it, on the inebriation of success.

As with the death of the 1998 Tour de France winner Marco Pantani – found dead in similar circumstances in February 2004 – Vandenbroucke’s death was shocking, but not surprising, such has been the self-destructive trail he has blazed since he was first busted for drug-taking 10 years ago. His uncle Jean-Luc, who managed him when he turned professional in 1994, summed up the feelings of many in the milieu: “a half-surprise, unfortunately”.

VDB…we never knew you…or did we? Who were you? I don’t know, but I’ll always choose to remember you as a winner, regardless of what was in the tank.

For more VDB Photos, go here.

Letter to The VeloNews Editor:

I thought I was done with this post, but I’m not. VeloNews.com couldn’t even be bothered to mention the fact that VDB’s funeral took place today. Yet when he was an up-and-coming star they were happy to write about him. With respect to the media, I’m a cynic, but to not even mention the funeral of Frank Vandenbroucke is beyond cynical and poor journalism. It’s shameful and foul, and requires that I write their “Editor” and call them on it…

Dear VeloNews:

I’m writing you on Saturday, October 24, 2009, at approximately 6:45PM EST to enquire as to why you’ve thus far failed to publish a report on (or even mention) the funeral of Frank Vandenbroucke, which was held today in Ploegsteert, Belgium. Elsewhere, we learn that VDB’s funeral was attended by a veritable who’s-who of the Belgian cycling world – Patrick Lefevere, Wilfried Peeters, Johan Museeuw, Leif Hoste and Peter Van Petegem were all in attendance, while VDB’s former Cofidis teammate Nico Mattan acted as a pallbearer. But this doesn’t even rate a mention on VeloNews.com?

In VeloNews Volume 27, Number 5, March 30, 1998, the headlines on the front cover above the VN masthead include “VDB’s Paris-Nice.” Inside, coverage of the “Race to the Sun” begins on page 12, with a half-page color photo of VDB, captioned, “INTO THE SPOTLIGHT Frank Vandenbroucke emerged from a background of promise, through the mist on the Col de la République, to clinch his first major stage race victory in Paris-Nice.” The article itself is titled “Belgium’s new star * Vandenbroucke* unbeatable in Race to the Sun.”

Yet today, eleven years since that first historic win by VDB – one that you were all too eager to cover at the time – you can’t manifest the common decency and respect to mention somewhere on your website that Vandenbroucke the man was finally at peace? Steve Hood wrote that Paris-Nice article for VeloNews, but in death VDB only merited a translated version of an Agence France Presse wire story on 12 October? Same for the follow-up reports on the cause of his untimely, tragic and senseless death – bland wire pieces?

Eleven years ago you dedicated hundreds of words to Vandenbroucke’s win. And yet today, you can’t even be bothered to mention that the man you then-hailed as “Belgium’s New Star” had finally been laid to rest, the weight of the hope of an entire nation finally off of his shoulders?

Sincerely,

JMP

VDB to be interred tomorrow – Sporza.be VDB portal is … appropriate

 Ciao, VDB.
 

Paul De Geyter: “Only Frank knows the truth”

Wie zeker niet zal ontbreken op Vdb’s begrafenis is Paul De Geyter, zijn manager en vertrouwensman. Who will definitely not lacking in Vdb The Geyter Paul’s funeral, his manager and trustee. De Geyter is ook peter van Margaux, Vdb’s tweede dochter. The Geyter is also godfather of Margaux, Vdb’s second daughter. “Alleen Frank weet wat er echt gebeurd is”, zegt die in Het Nieuwsblad. “Only Frank knows what really happened”, says in Het Nieuwsblad.
“Ik praatte van de week met advocaat Luc Deleu, die Senegal goed kent. Hij zei: “Waar Frank uitging, durf ik niet alleen te gaan. “I talked to the lawyer Luc Deleu week, who knows well Senegal. He said:” Where Frank went out, I dare not go alone. Dat is miserie zoeken.”” This search is misery. “
“Waarschijnlijk had Frank te veel gedronken. En dan was hij een gemakkelijke prooi voor dat soort personages. Zo was ook zijn levensloop.’ “Frank was probably too much to drink. And then he was an easy prey for such characters. This was his life.”

‘Zelfmoord sluit ik helemaal uit. Suicide I close completely. Dat is een fabeltje. That is a myth. Dat leid ik af uit dingen die hij onlangs vertelde, voor hij naar Senegal vertrok. This I infer from things he said recently, before he left for Senegal. Hij had een nieuw huis en ik had nog tegels liggen die hij zou komen halen, bijvoorbeeld.” He had a new house and I had tiles lying he would get, for example. “

This remains the best VDB tribute video…hauntingly beautiful.

In Memory of VDB (UPDATED)

Frank Vandenbroucke (VDB) was a controversial figure in the world of cycling – but you didn’t need me to tell you that… Why he was controversial is splattered all over the internet, but not everyone thinks he was an asshole, I know, and some of you are truly moved by an utterly pointless and tragic death. I know I am – and not least of all because several of the demons that VDB publicly revealed as having tormented him have pushed against my door on occasion since 2006.

“VDB Tributes” have already started to appear on Youtube, and dozens of blogger’s have commented on the senseless death of a brilliant athlete who lived what seemed to be, in some ways, a tortured existence – which at times he may have made worse by his own hand. Other cyclists have died in the last several years, including Valentino Fois, but for me personally VDB’s passing is utterly too close for comfort and at times a legitimately haunting event. The fact that Fois, Marco Pantani, VDB and I were all close in age (34) makes this more “real” than it might otherwise be. I’m no longer the wide-eyed 19 year-old living it up in Monte Carlo thanks to cycling, wondering exactly how high up “the sky’s the limit” meant I might soar.

Reality being what it is, at least I’m still alive, but the aforementioned are not (plus José María Jiménez, Jobie Dajka, Luca Gelfi, Christophe Dupouey, and Thierry Claveyrolat – to name just a few). If you think VDB’s death was inevitable, or you don’t care, or you can’t be bothered – no worries – this post isn’t for you. But for those so inclined, I want to collect here and publish your video clips, verse, haiku, photo collages, stories, and any other work you create to memorialize VDB as a cyclist, father, boy, human…

If you have anything to share, please let me know and send it (even if it’s just a “heads up” towards another link). Though this isn’t a contest, I’ll endeavour to recognize some of the most-exceptional submissions with something of value and appropriateness, in appreciation for the complex investment that goes into composing something in memory of Frank Vandenbroucke.

Eentries will be evaluated by me and several other colleagues in the cycling world, including journalists, editors, industry-types, etc. I’m not naming the panel though, because I don’t want them to be subjected to harassment in the forums or grief from their own employers or associates. Though 99.9% of you would never stoop to such a level, the 0.1% that would have a habit of making noise like a whiny, spoiled child. Some pretty amazing people are behind this, and while I don’t expect 100 responses, if you’ve ever been tempted to do a video montage, give VDB the honor.

To quote a very well-known member of the cycling press corps who provided me with valuable feedback on how best to convey my sentiments here, this isn’t “a morbid exercise in schadenfreude,” so don’t come here with that expectation or intent. This also is not an attempt to drive traffic to the site. Rather, I’m quite saddened by VDB’s passing, and I want to offer those who feel the same a place where their efforts can be collected, published, watched, read or listened to; and for those with an artistic flair who go the extra mile, I want to offer something beyond “thanks”, some kind of award. If I had a signed piece of VDB memorabilia, I would give it to the creator of the most compelling piece… And so that we’re clear, the fact that Frank Vandenbroucke may have implied or admitted to being doped is irrelevant in the context of this post, on this blog. What’s salient is all that VDB was, what he could have been, and yet never will.

Now, with no further adieu, and in no particular order, I’ll post the submissions as they arrive (let me know if you want a public credit or not). Oh, but before I do, if you’re a cyclist and you’re reading this and you think you might be depressed, you may find “A Cyclist’s Guide to Depression” from VeloNews to be of value.

In Memory of VDB

VDB Limerick: 
“There once was a Belgian namedFranky
Bolnde hair crooked nose and lanky.
This Wallone he spoke Dutch
but it didn’t matter that much.
He could win most races of his choosing.”

VDB Video Tribute:

VDB Poem: 
“Tainted blood, broken body, spirit, mind –
Become dust, swept into the cobbles,
Soon to be forgotten.

All is ephemeral – fame and the famous as well.”

VDB Haiku:
Silken on the bike,
VDB ascends la Redoute –
Still, grayness remains.


Ed Hood writes an amazing piece at Pez, for Pez…that we link to below.

“RIP VDB” said the text from John Stollery, waiting for me, when I woke up; there were others too, from Dave and Stevie, all expressing sadness – for all his faults, he was a hard man to dislike. He was just 34, cause of death is cited as a ‘blood clot.’

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…



TBC…

RIP, VDB.

PUDATED: Valentino Fois 1973-2008: Former Pantani team-mate found dead – Fois racconta: "La mia vita tra cocaina e depressione" (UPDATED)

La storia del bergamasco, condannato per tentato furto: “Sono in cura a Parma in un centro tossicologico. Prendevo ciò che prendevano tutti, chi nega è bugiardo. Ho un solo amico: è Tonkov”

Fois trovato morto in casa

Il ciclista sarebbe stato stroncato da un malore nella casa di Villa d’Alme, dove viveva con la madre. Due volte squalificato per doping, poi droga e depressione hanno tormentato la sua vita

BERGAMO, 28 marzo 2008 – Il ciclista Valentino Fois, 34 anni, è stato trovato morto stamattina nella sua abitazione di Villa D’Almè, in provincia diBergamo. Ancora non sono chiare le cause del decesso ma, secondo i primi rilievi, l’uomo sarebbe stato colpito da un malore. Il corridore era stato coinvolto in passato in un’inchiesta sul doping. Il corpo senza vita di Fois è stato rinvenuto dalla madre con la quale l’atleta viveva nel piccolo centro della provincia di Bergamo. Secondo i primi rilievi, il ciclista sarebbe stato colto da un malore nel sonno. Sul caso stanno però indagando i carabinieri della Compagnia di Zogno e nelle prossime ore sarà probabilmente l’autopsia a spiegare il motivo della morte.

IN CURA – Fois era stato recentemente in cura presso un centro specializzato di Parma per guarire dalla tossicodipendenza e dalla depressione. Nel settembre del 2007 aveva avuto anche qualche guaio con la giustizia per un furto di computer portatili che gli era costato una condanna a 100 giorni di reclusione, tramutati in una pena pecuniaria di 4 mila euro.

CON PANTANI – Professionista dal 1996, tra gli scalatori più promettenti dell’epoca, Fois era stato fermato nel ’98 per doping dopo due casi di positività al Giro di Svizzera e al Giro di Polonia. Nel 2002 Marco Pantani lo volle con sè alla Mercatone Uno. Poi la squalifica per doping. In questa stagione era tornato a correre con l’Amore e Vita McDonald’s di Ivano Fanini, partecipando al Giro della Provincia di Grosseto. Il 29 febbraio era andata in onda un’intervista rilasciata al programma “Le Iene”, su Italia 1. Qualche giorno dopo la madre di Pantani aveva deciso di querelare Fois. Dieci giorni fa era tornato dall’Africa, dove aveva corso il giro della Costa d’Avorio, classificandosi tra i primi 30, e si stava allenando per la Settimana Lombarda, che prenderà il via martedì prossimo in provincia di Bergamo. “Ci siamo allenati insieme fino a quattro giorni fa – ha detto Ivan Quaranta -. Siamo stati insieme anche ieri pomeriggio; abbiamo bevuto un aperitivo poi l’ho riaccompagnato a casa verso le 20, perché mi ha detto che sarebbe andato a trovare Rachele, la sua fidanzata. Stava bene, non so cosa sia potuto accadere”.

L’ULTIMA SERA – Ieri sera, però, dalla fidanzata Valentino non è mai arrivato anche se dopo cena è comunque uscito: qualcuno lo ha visto da solo in un bar del centro di Bergamo, ma al momento non si sa come sia tornato a Villa d’Almè. Valentino Fois non possedeva più auto, e si spostava a piedi o in bicicletta. Questa mattina nella sua camera da letto, i carabinieri hanno trovato solo medicinali di uso comune – che sono stati acquisiti – e nessuna traccia di stupefacenti. Gli inquirenti hanno trattenuto anche il suo telefono cellulare; i tabulati potrebbero infatti svelare l’identità della persona che per ultima lo ha visto in vita nella tarda serata di ieri. In giornata, i militari hanno comunque ascoltato i familiari del corridore, alcuni conoscenti, il medico di famiglia e poi Ivan Quaranta, Ivano e Cristian Fanini. E proprio dalla famiglia di Fois arriva la testimonianza di come la sua vicenda legata al doping lo aveva segnato profondamente: “Dopo la squalifica, nessuno più gli dava fiducia – dice Gianmario, fratello maggiore di Valentino -. Alcuni giudici di gara gli impedivano persino di gareggiare nelle competizioni di gran fondo. In questi ultimi tempi si era ripreso e aveva trovato nell’Amore e Vita una squadra che non solo gli ha dato fiducia, ma che gli ha voluto davvero bene”.

Bike Radar Reported it as follows:

Valentino Fois 1973-2008: Former Pantani team-mate found dead

* Despite an attempted comeback, Fois appears to have succumbed to his demons
* A former team mate of Pantani, Fois was only slighly less talented

“Those of you who have already received your April issue may have read the heart-rending story of Valentino Fois, the former alcoholic and team-mate of Marco Pantani who had recently embarked upon a comeback with the Amore e Vita team.

This morning, regrettably, that story already had a tragic postcript as police in Fois’s hometown, Bergamo, announced that the 34-year-old had been found dead. An autopsy will tell us more in due course. For now all we know is that Fois appeared to have been struck by a sudden illness. He had apparently spent the night with friends in Bergamo and had only returned home at 4.30am. Earlier in the day Fois had trained with team-mate Ivan Quaranta.

Fois had spoken in recent months about how doping had acted as a conduit to what later became a full-blown drug and alcohol habit, but it would both premature and opportunistic to use attribute his demise to the wider problems of his sport. Fois was always known in the peloton as a fragile and deeply impressionable individual. In many ways, he was similar to Pantani, only with slightly less talent. I say slightly because Fois himself was no mean climber, good enough to win Italy’s hardest and most mountainous amateur stage race, the Giro della Val d’Aosta.

It is more than likely that Fois, like Pantani, was killed by depression. Cocaine might have been il Pirata’s ultimate poison, but his life was gradually squeezed out over several years, not obliterated by a few grams of powder. For years Fois had been suffering in the same way. In recent months he’d found some relief in books on Buddhism. He’d undergone successful treatment in a clinc for addiction and mental health problems. But it may all have been too little. The man who hoped that cycling might prove Fois’s life raft, Amore e VIta boss Ivano Fanini, told me last month that, while making excellent progress, Fois was still clearly grappling with old demons.

It bears repeating: whatever that autopsy tells us, Fois’s death should be seen as nothing more than the tragedy of a young man who’d spent years at odds with himself and his world. He never gave up, but sadly, this morning, after 34 and a half years, life gave up on Valentino Fois.”
Bike Radar,
Daniel Friebe
Friday, Mar 28, 2008 11.00am

Lastly, though I’m not though not a regular reader, this requote at Steroid Nation of a VeloNews article creeped me out:

“In an interview, he blamed the incident on the fact that he had taken to drinking because he had not raced for so long. He admitted trying cocaine and suffering from depression and anxiety, for which he was receiving treatment.

Pantani, the great Italian climber, was also involved with doping, depression, cocaine, and death. Doping, polysubstance abuse = bad outcome.

Former champion Australian cyclist Jobie Dajka found dead

The UK Times is reporting the death of another world-class cyclist, Australian Jobie Dajka.

“The Australian cycling community is in shock at the death of former world and Commonwealth champion rider Jobie Dajka.

The 27-year-old, who won gold at the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002 and who had recently said he hoped to compete at the London Olympics, was found collapsed in his home in Adelaide, South Australia, by police on Monday evening. His death is not believed to be suspicious.

A promising young cyclist, Dajka won gold at the men’s kieren at the world championships in 2002, and was a member of the Australian gold-medal wining men’s team spirit at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002.

However his career spiralled out of control after he was sent home from a pre-Olympic training camp for lying to a doping inquiry just weeks before the Athens Games in 2004.

He suffered weight and alcohol problems and later admitted he had been depressed. He was also convicted in 2005 of assaulting Australia’s head track coach Martin Barras…

“Because of what happened back in 2004, where he was taken off the team, I don’t think he quite got over that,” Mr Victor told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“That was the dream of his lifetime and everything seemed to have gone downhill from then.”

A former girlfriend of the cyclist told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph newspaper that Dajka’s death was “tragic”. She said he had recently lost his job and blamed the harsh treatment he received after being expelled from the cycling team as contributing to his long-term depression…”

Full story here.

Dupouey, a Tragic End

Former world mountain bike champion Christophe Dupouey committed suicide Wednesday, French cycling officials confirmed.

Dupouey, 40, was reportedly despondent ever since he was sentenced to three months in jail in 2006 for his role in Belgium’s “pot belge” doping scandal. More than 40 people were arrested in 2003 as part of an alleged distribution network. More: Velonews.

Coverage from La Gazzetta dello Sport:

Dupouey, una tragica fine – Il campione francese di mountain bike si è suicidato a Tarbes. Soffriva di depressione. Nel 2006 era stato condannato a tre mesi per un caso di doping

TARBES (Francia), 5 febbraio 2009 – L’ex campione del mondo di mountain bike Christophe Dupouey è stato trovato morto. Secondo la federazione degli Alti Pirenei, la regione dove si trova Tarbes, si sarebbe suicidato. Aveva 40 anni.

Dupouey, iridato nel 1998 e quarto ai Giochi olimpici di Atlanta nel 1996, soffriva di depressione. Nel 2006 era stato condannato a tre mesi di carcere per un caso di doping. Recentemente aveva assunto l’incarico di responsabile del bike sharing nella città di Tarbers, dove viveva.

Gelfi Suicide

Former professional cyclist Luca Gelfi was found dead in his bike shop and is believed to have committed suicide according to La Gazzetta dello Sport on Saturday.

The 42-year-old Gelfi, who began his professional career in 1988 and retired in 1998, raced for Del Tongo as well as the Eldor-Viner, Brescialat and Ros Mary-Amica Chips teams. The Italian road racer won two stages in the Giro d’Italia in 1990 and finished second at the Milano Sanremo in 1993. Gelfi reportedly suffered from depression prior to his death.

He leaves behind a wife and child.

________________________________________

MILANO, 3 gennaio 2009 – Tragedia della depressione a Torre de’ Roveri, nel bergamasco: Luca Gelfi si è tolto la vita, nel suo negozio di biciclette. Aveva 42 anni. Passato pro’ con la Del Tongo nel 1988, Gelfi è stato professionista fino al 1998 raccogliendo 4 vittorie, tra cui due tappe al Giro d’Italia del 1990, quello vinto da Gianni Bugno: la Teramo-Fabriano e la Grinzane-Cuneo (cronometro individuale). Aveva corso, tra le altre squadre, per MG, Eldor, Mapei, Brescialat e Ros Mary: tra i piazzamenti, spicca il secondo posto alla Milano-Sanremo 1993, dietro a Fondriest e davanti a Sciandri.

Conclusa la carriera agonistica, Gelfi era salito in ammiraglia e da anni era il tecnico del Team F.lli Giorgi, una delle più quotate formazioni juniores d’Italia.

Da qualche tempo Gelfi soffriva a causa di una forte depressione e pare che l’ultima telefonata l’abbia fatta proprio a Carlo Giorgi, suo patron e grande amico, che in questo momento si trova in Romania. Gelfi (nella foto con Paolo Sipala) lascia la moglie e un piccolo bimbo.

UPDATED (4 January 2009)

*Gelfi’s official team photo card gallery.

*Spare a thought for Gelfi’s wife and young son.

*The Gelfi suicide is another tragic example of the sometimes overwhelming challenges that ex-cyclists face in navigating the “Real World,” even years after their departure from the rarefied world of elite sport.

*Mental illness doesn’t spare the cyclist: Graeme Obree, José María Jiménez, Marco Pantani, Thierry Claveyrolat, Gelfi and many others have all struggled with various conditions – some more successfully than others.

* A Cyclist’s Guide to Depression