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…



Death and Senator Charles Grassley

Death Stalks Us All, but some more closely than others. Whether we die from congenital heart failure, or head trauma from the shock wave of a roadside IED blast in Iraq, or even an overdose of some stupid recreational drug…eventually we all die.

Unfortunately, to me it feels like my family has experienced more than its fair share of death and loss recently, which is why it profoundly upsets me that the boorish, dishonorable Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) actually said this week that A.I.G. executives should “resign or go commit suicide.”

There is rhetoric, and there is going too far. And while almost nothing in the political culture of this once-great nation shocks or bothers me, Grassley’s statement angers and disgusts me.

A US Senator publicly encouraging fellow human beings to take their own lives? WTF?!

I don’t care if Grassley claims that he was speaking “rhetoric” (must be some foreign language related to Mandarin, since the Chinese are going to own our asses once we default on those T-Bills)and that he “obviously” never intended to encourage anyone to kill themselves (even though that’s exactly what he did).

The fact is, Grassley said the first thing that came to his (obviously under-developed) mind, which was that his fellow human beings should take their own lives because of their culpability for monetary losses at a public company.

That’s horrible. Worse than horrible – it is f@cked-up, and this country is going to hell in a hand-basket. I never thought I’d say something like that…but it’s in a moment of crisis that the true nature of a country’s leadership is revealed, and this is what we’re seeing: a supposedly pro-life Republican Senator slip-up on a local radio program and reveal the depths of his moral rottenness. And he didn’t even have the guts to stick by his rhetorical statement.

I normally don’t take politics very seriously, but Grassley’s insanity and insensitivity wound me personally. Can you imagine if someone like me gave an interview on the record in which I said that Senator Grassley should commit suicide? I’d either be arrested or institutionalized, and whatever bullsh#t excuse I tried to come up with would be dismissed by the judge. And yet a US Senator can get away with a comment like that and not be censured for it?

Congratulations, America, this is the leadership you’ve chosen to steward this country through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

If people should resign or commit suicide because they spent money inappropriately, then the halls of Congress would be very quiet.

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