VDB: The Weight

Editor’s Note: The Weight, an original piece by Flandrian, is Pappillon’s final blog post dedicated to the enigma known as “VDB”.

The Weight

As a young boy he was special. At sign tables and start lines fathers would point him out and whisper to their boys, ” That’s him, the special one I told you about.” Greetings and praise met him at the start of even the smallest races.The big events were like coronations for the young Prince. “This one is going to be something special, you’ll see.” A Messiah had been born in Belgium.
The Weight of Possibility.

It all seemed so easy so preordained. His victories grew and appeared so effortless to the mere mortals that worshiped Him. When He won, He won in grand style, with spectacular attacks that disposed of his competition and drove the hero starved masses into a frenzy. They cheered , they cried, they drank Belguim dry. A culturally divided nation was now united under one God.

The Weight of Responsibility.

As much as they willed him to be a God he was as fragile as any other man. The Wind, Rain, and Cold wear down even the hardest stone. He looked to the shadows and to those who prey on self doubt to ease the suffering and fear. When He succumbed. The spell was broken. Adulation soured to disenchantment. ” He was a fraud,He made us believe. How dare he assume the Crown and all our hopes.
The Weight of Expectation.

It ends for him much as it started.
In a misty rain, as they carry the coffin past the silent faithful, a father whisper to his young son.
“That’s him, that’s the special one I told you about.”
Entombed below the dirt of Flanders –

The Weight of Belgium Upon Him for Eternity.

From the Blogosphere: Frank Vandenbroucke is Dead

by Braze-on Dropout, whacksonville
2009 October 14

“How long will you continue to ride on a rim, knowing full well there is a crack forming around an eyelet? Will you give up on the rim right away and never ride it again? Will you replace the whole wheel even though the hub and spokes are fine? Maybe you have the money and you’d rather not worry about even the slightest possibility of sudden rim failure. In that case, I’m glad you are so financially secure. Make sure your cast-off parts go to someone who can use them.

But maybe you can’t afford a new wheel or even a new rim. Or maybe you don’t believe in giving up on equipment that still functions, even if there is no way of knowing how much longer the equipment will continue to function. You’ll have to keep riding that cracked rim. Will it make you paranoid? Will you monitor the crack constantly to see if it gets bigger? Will you take it easier than usual, trying to prolong the life of the rim? Or will you push it to the extreme to truly test the rim’s integrity?

How far from home will you ride on a cracked rim? Further than you can walk? Further than someone would drive to pick you up? How much faith will you put in your damaged equipment? Will you count on a cracked rim to get you everywhere you need to go? Will your cracked rim change your ideas about where you need to go? Or will you put your rim and yourself out to pasture, relegated to a life of nostalgia and longing?

Will you try to save the rim with epoxy? Will you continue applying the epoxy even after it becomes evident that the crack cannot be stopped? What will you do when a nipple finally pulls through?

Frank Vandenbroucke’s cracked rim was in his brain. He probably did not notice the crack at first. How much did it grow before he became aware of it? Certainly he must have figured it out before we did. Frank pushed himself beyond the limits the crack in his brain could endure. When he showed signs of failure we were disappointed, but we pushed him harder. Selfishly, we demanded that Frank perform at the level we had seen him perform at before the crack was visible. We ignored Frank’s damage. Now Frank Vandenbroucke is dead.

A person is not a piece of bicycle equipment. Unlike bike parts, damaged human parts often cannot be replaced or repaired. When a human is damaged beyond repair, we lose them for good. So long, VDB.”

[Editor’s Note: This interesting analogy on the collapse of VDB was unlike any I’d read before. Whilst researching commentaries on VDB’s funeral I discovered it, and thought it quite worthy of sharing with you all. I hope you find it a compelling read. The author is Braze-on Dropout, from the blog: whacksonville. Perhaps one day he will honor us with an official guest post. But until then, Pappillon will tempt him with fame and fortune, and his name in lights!]

Yo, Un-Named Media, VDB was laid to rest yesterday!

Thank god for Cyclingnews.com (never thought I’d say that after 2006), which had the decency to cover the funeral of VDB yesterday. Velonews.com, however, couldn’t be bothered to even note that VDB was interred in the family crypt and finally put to rest.

I happened to have an 11 year-old copy of VeloNews by my desk, because it was the first one in which my writing was paid for and published. And ironically, that issue also contained the 1998 Paris-Nice coverage. Well, needless to say, we know who won: VDB – but if you read the article, and the headlines from that issue of VN, and then compared it to the disdain, disrespect and utter contempt with which VN covered VDB’s death, if you are a fan of the sport, it’s traditions and know of the world before The Lance, I would hope that their conducts disgusts and revolts you, or at least makes you angry.

Fine, Cyclingnews did a great job covering the funeral. But VeloNews – CN’s erst-while competitor – didn’t even mention it!!! That ****es me off to no end. Irrational or not, it really ****es me off. In fact, despite all of the ongoing VDB-like drama in my own life (Which I thankfully keep behind closed doors), I spent an hour last night writing a letter to “The Editor” at VN taking them to task for the coverage they gave VDB when they described him as “Belgium’s new star *Vandenbroucke* unbeatable in Race to the Sun.” (VeloNews Volume 27, Number 5, March 30, 1998)

Classic media opportunism…they devote hundreds of words to VDB when they want to crown him king-apparent, then, eleven years later, with his brilliance long-since tarnished by hardly-unusual scrapes with the doping police, and a fall from grace made ten-times worse by the mental illness from which VDB clearly suffered – the hijos de putas editing VeloNews on the weekends can’t even note on their webpage that he had finally been laid to rest (and honored a who’s-who of Belgian cycling, including Van Petegem, Museeuw and Patrick Lefevere).

If you want to read what I wrote and see the pictures, click here. If you’re so inclined, use my letter as a template for writing your own, chastising VN. And if you think they did they RIGHT thing, or don’t care about VDB and you feel like sharing that with me, bring it on: joe-at-joepapp-dot-com. Only in the cycling “press” in the United States would the funeral of a just-dead 34 year old former star of professional cycling not even be noted…

The Blogs did a better job covering and commenting on VDB’s passing. Take this entry from Whacksonville.

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?



VDB Funeral this Saturday

According to CyclingNews.com, Frank Vanbenbroucke will be laid to rest at a private funeral to be held Saturday in Ploegsteert, Belgium. The 34-year-old died last week in Saly, Senegal, and the ceremony will be followed by a burial in the family vault in a nearby cemetery. For our Spanish-speaking readers:

El funeral de Frank Vandenbroucke tendrá lugar el sábado en Ploegsteert El entierro del ciclista belga Frank Vanbenbroucke se realizará el sábado a las 11:00 en Ploegsteer. La ceremonia será seguida por el entierro en el panteón familiar en el cementerio de la provincia. Los padres del ciclista han solicitado que la ceremonia tenga lugar en la más estricta intimidad en la iglesia por lo que una pantalla gigante se levantará fuera de la iglesia.

Whilst perusing the archives, I came across this shot of VDB (then riding for Quick Step and trailed by team boss Patrick Lefevere), after stage 3 of the 2003 Tour of the Mediterranean, in La Motte, France:

Contrast VDB’s blood-shot eyes and almost-smile, with the epic effort Lefevere might be making to suppress a grin and conceal the pleasure one might feel upon realizing just how well his young charge might be responding to – The Charge – that would see him through to a brilliant second-place at that year’s Tour of Flanders. All speculation, of course, but Lefevre – who admitted to abusing amphetamines while a rider – was accused by the Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws of involvement in the doping of various riders in articles titled “Patrick Lefevre, 30 years of doping.”

When Cyclingnews covered the story, they reported that Het Laatste Nieuws’ key sources for the articles were a former cyclist who raced with Lefevere in the ’70s, but is now a convicted criminal serving time, and the director of the race Driedaagse van De Panne (Three Days of De Panne). The other key sources remained anonymous, and there were no revelations of previously unannounced positive dope tests from riders that Lefevere’ managed.

The articles claim to review an alleged doping history starting from when the manager was himself a pro cyclist. One source told the newspaper, “Lefevere stopped racing because he was addicted to amphetamines himself” when describing Lefevere’s cycling career in the seventies. Another claimed that Lefevere also dealt in doping products.

An Italian doctor that took care of Lefevere’s riders during the years of the Mapei-team, featuring Johan Museeuw, also claimed that there was organised use of doping products. “Growth hormone came from the pharmacy, EPO was ordered online. If you wanted to ride a good season, you needed 20,000 to 30,000 euro, including products. Lefevere knew about it, saw it happening and approved it all”, said one claim in the newspaper.

The camera rarely lies – at least not when the tale is in the eyes…

Photo – Belgian Quick-Step Davitamon Frank Vandenbroucke (R) and sports director Patrick Lefevere (L) pictured during the third stage of the Mediterranean Tour cycling race, Friday 14 February 2003, in La Motte, France. BELGA PHOTO MICHEL GOUVERNEUR)

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…



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