Wed, Oct 14, 2009 - Page 20 News List

Belgian cycling star found dead in Senegal hotel room


Troubled Belgian cyclist Frank Vandenbroucke has been found dead at a Senegalese seaside hotel. Staff said he had been drinking and vomited before he died.

The 34-year-old’s body was found in a room at the hotel in Saly, one of Senegal’s main resorts, 70km south of the capital Dakar, where he checked in at 2am local time on Monday.

“When he arrived, he was drunk. He was with a Senegalese woman. He came for one night and we served him a beer,” the employee said, asking not to be named.

“About four in the morning his girlfriend came and asked for a mop because he had been sick,” the man said after being interviewed by police.

“By 1pm [Monday] he had not come out of his room. About 8pm my boss called me and said the client had died,” he said.

Vandenbroucke made his professional debut in 1994 and recorded 51 victories, including the 1999 Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic, his career highlight.

In 2002, Vandenbroucke was twice stopped by police under the influence of alcohol at the wheel of a car. Later that year, a police search at his home uncovered a large quantity of doping substances.

In Belgium, family and friends recalled a deeply troubled if talented rider.

Vandenbroucke had suffered from depression and two years ago tired to commit suicide after his wife said she was divorcing him.

“Sadly this has only partly come as a surprise, for we knew he was not doing too well,” said his uncle, former racer Jean-Luc Vandenbroucke. “He was up and down, both in terms of his health and his morale. He left for Senegal on Sunday.”

His father Jean-Jacques said Frank had gone on holiday in a happy mood.

“He left in good health, he was beaming because he had found a team for next year. So we are stunned by the news,” he said.

Jean-Jacques said he was waiting to hear how he died but would not blame a sport which has been tainted with drug problems.

“He had his problems, but he was not the only one. He was part of a system. The only reproach you could have is his turning professional at 19, younger than the others,” he said. “He was perhaps still a bit too delicate but you can’t take away his victories and his class.”

“I don’t think he had problems with his sport but with his private life, where he suffered a lot,” Jean-Jacques said.

In 2003, when he rode for the Quick Step team, Vandenbroucke appeared to be on the way back after a second-place finish in the prestigious Tour of Flanders classic, but he sank into depression the following year.

“Frank had perhaps too much talent and a slightly weak character,” said all-time great Eddy Merckx.

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