- Category : Cyclist
- Type : PE
- Profile : 1/3 - Investigating / Martyr
- Definition : Split - Small (21,25)
- Incarnation Cross : RAX The Sphinx 4
Frank Vandenbroucke (6 November 1974 – 12 October 2009), was a Belgian professional road racing cyclist. He was the great hope of Belgian cycling in the 1990s but a remarkable talent which appeared in his adolescence in athletics and then in cycle racing dissipated in a succession of drugs problems, rows with teams, suicide attempts and finally being disowned by world cycling. His former wife described him as a cocaine addict. He is known to have had numerous drug and family problems, and to have attempted suicide. However, VDB claimed in an interview with ProCycling's Daniel Friebe three weeks before his death to have made a near-complete recovery from the emotional issues that plagued him throughout his career. Vandenbroucke told Friebe, "I simply realise that the last year and a half have been fantastic for me." Nevertheless, he died of a pulmonary embolism in October 2009.
Frank Vandenbroucke was born in Mouscron and grew up in Ploegsteert, a village in the French-speaking region of Belgium (with facilities for Dutch speakers). In 1978, when he was four and cycling in the village square, he was knocked over by the driver of a rally car. His mother said her son didn't cry until doctors cut his cycling shorts. The collision led to four operations on his right knee and repeated problems later in life.
Vandenbroucke first tried athletics, joining the Entente Athlétique Hainaut. In 1986 he became a regional schoolboy champion. He took out a cycling licence with the club in 1989 and won a race at Brakel. An unnamed acquaintance told the Belgian journalist Philippe van Holle:
"It must have been when I was about 19 or 20 and went out training with a friend on the Belgian borders. As we spun along, out of nowhere this skinny blond kid was on our back wheel. He looked about 14. He was still there 15 minutes later, so we picked up speed. He just sat there, so we picked up the pace again. It was still no problem for him. I looked over my shoulder and he gave me a half-mocking, half-friendly grin. In the end, we went as hard as we could to try to get rid of him and teach the little brat a lesson, because by now he was getting a bit too cocky for our tastes. But whatever we did, he still hung on. After about an hour, we came into a village called Ploegsteert, at which point he came alongside with real arrogance and said 'OK, I'm back home now, so 'bye. By the way, I'm Frank Vandenbroucke.' Neither of us had ever met a kid like him."
In 1991, when he was 17, Vandenbroucke won the national beginners road championship at Halanzy. He came third in the world junior road championship in Athens in 1992.
Vandenbroucke turned professional in 1993 with the Belgian team, Lotto. The directeur sportif was his uncle, Jean-Luc. He won 51 races in the next six years, including Liège–Bastogne–Liège in 1999. From 2000 he made the sports pages more for doping problems, failed comebacks, depression, marital problems and a failed suicide.
Vandenbroucke left Lotto in the middle of 1995 to join Mapei. There he became a team-mate of Johan Museeuw. The manager was Patrick Lefevère. Vandenbroucke stayed there until the end of 1998, the year in which he won Gent–Wevelgem, two stages and the overall competition of Paris–Nice, and two stages of the Tour de Wallonie.
In 1999 he transferred to the French team, Cofidis. The British magazine Procycling said:
"Three years on a contract worth 30 million Belgian francs (£460,000) was a deal beyond VDB's wildest dreams. He never suspected that having all that money in his pocket would set off a terrible downward spiral. He won Het Volk and Liège–Bastogne–Liège before sinking into a doping controversy that was never satisfactorily explained (see below) - even though VDB was cleared by the courts. The team suspended him while the allegations were investigated and relations with their star rider never recovered. When he came back, he showed well in the '99 Vuelta before, remarkably, managing to finish in the front group of the world championship despite fracturing both hands en route. Contractually obliged to stay with Cofidis, VDB had a poor 2000 season. By this point, people in cycling were talking more about VDB's nights out than his riding."
At Cofidis he shared leadership with David Millar. His "non-communication" with Millar was publicised and criticised. It was with Cofidis, Vandenbroucke said in his autobiography, that he met the French rider, Philippe Gaumont. It was Gaumont's confessions of drug-taking in the team that led to the so-called Cofidis scandal that included a raid by drugs police on Millar's house and the British rider's suspension for two years and his disqualification from the world time-trial championship he had won. Gaumont, Vandenbroucke said in his life story, suggested he take a drug trip by mixing Stilnoct, a sleeping aid, with alcohol. Gaumont described Vandenbroucke as a wild man of cycling. It was Gaumont, Vandenbroucke said, who introduced him to Bernard Sainz, with whom his name would be connected in alleged drugs scandals.
That year was Vandenbroucke's best. He won Liège–Bastogne–Liège, Omloop Het Volk, and stages in Paris–Nice and the Vuelta a España. His win in Liège–Bastogne–Liège was so dominant that some called him a "genius of cycling", because he said on television where he would attack. It was, however, his last year of major victories. In 2001 he moved to the Italian team, Lampre, then to the Belgian team, Domo-Farm Frites, the following year, rejoining Lefevère and Museeuw. Vandenbroucke stayed with Lefevère when he started the Quick Step-Davitamon team in 2003 and he came second to Peter van Petegem in the Tour of Flanders. Vandenbroucke said he was happy with his performance, that he had attacked van Petegem on the last climbs because he knew van Petegem would beat him in the sprint, but Lefevère criticised him for lack of effort and Vandenbroucke left the team.
In 2004 he joined the Italian team, Fassa Bortolo, under Giancarlo Ferretti. He asked not to be paid unless he won. He had a largely empty season and was fired. He joined Mr Bookmaker for 2005. He missed so many races that the team director, Hilaire Van der Schueren, demanded Vandenbroucke demonstrate that he was still a racing cyclist. He was sacked for not staying in touch. In 2008, he signed with Mitsubishi, where he was suspended when accused by Belgian police of buying cocaine in Wielsbeke.
On April 4, 2009 he won a stage in the French race La Boucle de l’Artois, on a 15 km time trial, his first win in a UCI-race since 1999.
Vandenbroucke said in 2004: "I've never done anything to make myself popular. In fact, the opposite. Sometimes I think it's all a dream. I've thrown up a marriage, I've been on bad terms with my parents for a long time, all of which has troubled and exhausted me." He said he had disappointed sponsors, managers and directeurs sportifs, even though they continued to show confidence in him. "I had become schizophrenic," he said. Without psychiatric help, he would "have followed the same path as Pantani", the Italian rider found dead on a hotel floor. After 450,000 French francs a month at Cofidis, he earned 220,000 at Lampre in 2001 and then half that at Fasso Bortolo.
Vandenbroucke had a daughter (Cameron) with his partner Clotilde Menu in February 1999, but the couple never were married and soon separated. The following year, Vandenbroucke wed Sarah Pinacci, a former model and hostess with the Italian team, Saeco. They lived at Lebbeke, near Brussels.
Vandenbroucke and Pinacci had a turbulent relationship, and it was said in the media that they could not live together and they could not live apart - forming what those close to them called "a diabolical couple". In December 2001, they had a daughter (Margaux).
In July 2006, VDB fired a gun into the air while arguing with his wife, who later left him. Vandenbroucke's father, Jean-Jacques, said his son had tried to frighten his wife that he had committed suicide. His father said:
"Frank was talking to Sarah on the telephone. They were arguing. He went out into the garden and let his shotgun off into the air. She was frightened that something had happened to him and called 100. He did it to try to make her scared."
...it was the fifth or sixth time that she had returned to Italy. When they are together they fight, when they are apart they cry. He can't bear it when she leaves. He blames himself and takes all the guilt. And then there is his daughter. He can't bear not being able to see her. I probably shouldn't say so but, since Verona when he met Sarah, he has not been a committed rider."
Vandenbroucke and Pinacci eventually divorced, and the Belgian struggled to establish a more tranquil, less-public life. He resided for a time with a couple in Eeklo who had taken him in after earlier rows with his wife, before moving-on to stay with other friends. His parents, who run a bar and his supporters' club in Ploegsteert - membership dropped from 300 to 145 between 2005 and 2006 although 600 bought "Franky is for ever" T-shirts - said in 2006 that they had heard little from their son since he left Belgium for Italy. His wife had visited twice, to present her husband's new clothing collection, but not to see Vandenbroucke. In 2005, he and his estranged wife and their daughter had a weekend at Eurodisney in Paris. Supporters in the Frankyboys fan club at the café 't Parkske in Oudenaarde said Vandenbroucke had never been to see them, "although he said a couple of times that he would come but then never did." The chairman of the Frankyboys, Adelin de Meulemeester, said: "You can see him one day and he'll give you a friendly hello, then the next he won't even notice you [ziet hij je niet staan]."
In 2006 he asked his agent to ask his parents to sell his house in Nieuwekerke, near Ypres.
Vandenbroucke and his uncle, Jean-Luc, did not speak for two years after Vandenbroucke broke his contract in leaving Lotto, the team which Jean-Luc Vandenbroucke managed.
Vandenbroucke made headlines in 1999 for the first of many drug problems, arrested by Paris police but then released. In 2001 he was stopped on the E17 motorway in Belgium in a speeding car shared with Bernard Sainz, the so-called Dr Mabuse of cycling. Sainz was jailed in 2008 for falsely practising medicine. Sainz could not produce the insurance documents the law insisted he carry and police searched the car and found drugs later identified as clenbuterol, morphine and EPO, which is used in sport as a blood-booster. Sainz insisted they were homeopathic products. After Sainz said he had spent the night at Vandenbroucke's house, police acquired a search warrant from a court in Termonde and searched Vandenbroucke's house with drugs specialists. There they found small quantities of more drugs which Vandenbroucke claimed were for his dog. Vandenbroucke was handcuffed and taken to a police station. Two and a half thousand fans signed a petition complaining about his treatment. Among them was his rival, Peter van Petegem. Vandenbroucke was banned by the Flemish cycling federation from riding in Belgium for six months.
The police said he was "very evasive" during questioning. The inquiries continued and in December 2004 Vandenbroucke admitted taking growth hormones, EPO, amphetamine, morphine and steroids, although he did not name his suppliers. He was found guilty in 2005 and sentenced to 200 hours of community service. He appealed and a court in Ghent fined him 250,000 euros instead. The Belgian press agency, Belga, said the court considered a fine suited to "the type of crime and Vandenbroucke's personality."
Vandenbroucke said he was naive but not dishonest in using Sainz - who was not charged - but that he was impressed at his results. He said at a news conference in Ploegsteert that he had always thought Sainz gave him homeopathic products but that he had doubts. He said Sainz had given him drops and injections. He said:
“He (Sainz) said to me that they were completely legal homeopathic products. I wanted to trust him ... I was under the charm of Dr Mabuse. I may be considered naive but I am not a dishonest person. I want to believe that Mr Sainz only gave homeopathic care. I trusted him. Bernard Sainz proposed that he advise me. He seemed to be a strange man but was clearly a cycling expert. He impressed me greatly by showing me photographs of him administering his treatments to greats like Eddy Merckx, Lucien Van Impe, Bernard Hinault, Laurent Fignon, Cyril Guimard and many other great sportsmen like Alain Prost. He explained to me that this care was based on natural methods and alternative medicines without endangering my health nor violating the ethics of our sport.”
He paid Sainz 7,000 French francs for the homeopathic drops and 50,000 in fees in the first half of 1999. Sainz said:
I have concerned myself with him since autumn 1998. Not, as has been claimed, to get him doping products. Everybody knows perfectly, starting with the policemen who have listened to me for a long time, that riders don't need me for that sort of thing. To the contrary. If they turn to me, it's because they've heard of what I have been able to do [mes compétences diverses] for the great stars I have cited.
Vandenbroucke was twice stopped by police in 2002 for driving his Porsche after drinking.
In February 2007, publicity for Vandenbroucke's autobiography, Je ne suis pas Dieu [I'm Not God] said he admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs.
"Everybody did it [used dope], and so did I," he was quoted. "It is the truth and it does not diminish the value of my victories."
The publisher later denied Vandenbroucke had said it, claiming a misunderstanding. Vandenbroucke did, however, write that he lived a life of drug-taking and sometimes didn't sleep for days. He said:
“To Stilnoct and amphetamines, I added Valium... Sometimes I didn't sleep a second in five days. I started seeing things, people who didn't exist. Like people hiding around me in the bushes with telephoto lenses. I used to hear them coming, with their combat-shoes; they got out of their bus parked in front of the house. They were coming to arrest me. Shit, my dope! I ran to the bathroom to throw my stock of amphetamines down the toilet and the syringes into the waste bin...
Sarah didn't used to see them and tried to get me to understand. But how couldn't she see them, those policemen, dozens of them, and their flashing lights! She must be crazy. But was she making it up: could she see them really?"
In March, the Union Cycliste Internationale declared Vandenbroucke persona non grata. His ex-wife described him as a cocaine addict. Vandenbroucke was suspended by Mitsubishi-Jartazi and then left.
In August 2006, Vandenbroucke was caught in an Italian amateur race at Inverno, run by an organisation not associated with the Italian federation or Olympic committee, using a licence made out to "Francesco del Ponte" and bearing a photo of the world champion, Tom Boonen. He described himself as Swiss and living in Rome, giving the address of a beauty salon.
Vandenbroucke said riding had been "a weakness". He said: "I dropped out of the race. I have never crossed the line in amateur races and I have never wanted to falsify their races." He rode because he "needed races", he said, at a time when he felt strong. He denied sticking Boonen's picture on his licence, saying he would have chosen someone else's picture.
Vandenbroucke had a reputation for "accidents, illnesses, doping allegations, lawsuits, suspicion, surliness and suspensions". He said:
“From August 2004 to August 2005, 12 months that seemed like 100, I was depressed like never before. I decided to be finished with it... That day, I was going to die... I went to fetch the most expensive bottle of wine from my cellar, a magnum Château Petrus 1961. I poured it out and I drank a toast to my life. I'd asked the advice of a doctor. Insulin would do it.
I wrote a farewell letter: it knew it was clumsy but for me it was the best solution...
"There's no need for an autopsy. I injected 10cc of Actrapid. Please, don't let them open my eyes."
... I was alone. I put on my world champion's jersey, I injected myself and then I went to lie on my bed and I waited to die. I was so happy. No more worries at last... Deliverance at last. It was my mother who found me later that day."
On 6 June 2007 he was admitted to hospital at Magenta, near Milan, Italy, where he lived. He was reported in "grave" condition. His team-manager, Palmiro Masciarelli, said: "Frank is all alone [est actuellement abandonné]. He no longer has his wife and he lives by himself. There is no longer a team at his side."
Vandenbroucke had turned down the Giro d'Italia, claiming problems with his knee, on which he had an operation the previous winter. His psychiatrist, Jef Brouwers, said
"... the problems with his knee have affected him badly. He could no longer ride as he wanted after the operation. Nor could the doctors say what the problem was. These last few days, he has been terrible. The people that I called in Italy could no longer help him. He had thought it through and, so far as he was concerned, everything was lost. The situation of his knee has worn him down completely [l'a entièrement dévoré] and his private life wasn't good either, with ups and downs."
Vandenbroucke died on 12 October 2009, while on holiday at Saly, a coastal resort 70 km south of Dakar, the capital of Senegal. He planned to stay there 12 days with a former teammate, Fabio Polazzi. An autopsy in Senegal showed he had died of a pulmonary embolism. The circumstances remain unclear due to conflicting reports, some saying a combination of drugs were found by his bedside.
An employee at La Maison Bleue, his hotel, was quoted by Agence France Presse: "When he came in at 2am, he was drunk. He was with a Senegalese woman and he planned to stay one night. At 4am his companion came to ask for a mop because he had been sick. By 1pm he had not left his room. Around 8pm my boss called me and told me he was dead."
Three people who allegedly stole his personal possessions on the night of his death were arrested, including a woman who spent the evening with him. On November 18, 2009, his family said it did not want further tests to determine if he was under the influence of drugs.