Thursday, October 15, 2009

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 named 'Franky'
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...




  1. Nice idea. Not morbid at all. Wish I were more creative. Good luck.

  2. I was going to put something very long, but there are too many thoughts in my head and a would gabble...
    Spent yesterday watching paris-nice.. how quickly a life can change.. I remember watching that race at the time, and thinking what a future he had ahead..
    Sad how things can change...

    Theres one hell of a team up there somewhere...

  3. Dim, thanks for taking the time to weigh-in. I thought the same thing about VDB, how he just had this golden-boy future in front of him...back in '99 I was still innocent and didn't realize how seriously "the system" could damage someone who wasn't prepared for it. How does someone like VDB come to this, whilst Tom Boonen is Champion of Belgium? So much the fans don't know about what their heroes might be suffering, or how they might be degrading themselves (and, without mal-intent, bringing shame upon the sport that feeds them and made them stars).

    No one will ever know, nor could we have ever said what VDB most needed early in his career, but I WOULD BET $1,000,000 that meeting Phillippe Gaumont was not conducive to his building a stable life - even one that included EPO. Like David Millar said, (I paraphrase) when you start doping, you become 100x more professional b/c you realize the risk you are taking for marginal improvements. Yet in VDB, like Pantani (and now Boonen?) we see cocaine and bad driving...

    So VDB, w/ whatever personality traits/disorder(s) he did or didn't have, is being encouraged by Gaumont to go beyond performance enhancement into straight-up recreational drug use:

    "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.(1) It was Gaumont, Vandenbroucke said, who introduced him to Bernard Sainz, with whom his name would be connected in alleged drugs scandals...(2)"

    (1) -
    (2) -


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