Details begin to emerge about Vandenbroucke’s final

By Agence France Presse

La maison bleue in Senegal.

La maison bleue in Senegal.

Photo: Agence France Presse

An autopsy on Belgian cyclist Franck Vandenbroucke, found dead in his hotel room at a seaside resort in Senegal on Monday, will take place on either Wednesday or Thursday, police announced Tuesday.

“The autopsy will take place (Wednesday) or (Thursday) in Dakar,” a police source told reporters on Tuesday, before adding that “we shouldn’t lose ourselves in conjecture” over the cause of his death.

The 34-year-old was on holiday with his cyclist friend Fabio Polazzi. Staff at the hotel in the seaside resort of Saly said Vandenbroucke had been drinking and vomited before he died late Monday.

The 34-year-old’s body was found in a room at the hotel, La maison bleue, where he checked in at 2:00 a.m. on Monday.

A local medical official told reporters, on condition of anonymity, that police had discovered drugs in the room, but declined to specify what those drugs were.

“When he arrived, he was drunk,” a hotel employee told AFP. “He was with a Senegalese woman. He came for one night and we served him a beer.”

The entrance to Vandenbroucke's room at La maison bleue in Senegal.

The entrance to Vandenbroucke’s room at La maison bleue in Senegal.

Photo: Agence France Presse

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

“By one p.m. (Monday) he had not come out of his room. About eight p.m. my boss called me and said the client had died.”

An AFP reporter and photographer were allowed into the room on Tuesday from where the body had been removed by emergency workers in Saly, one of Senegal’s main resorts, 70 kilometers south of the capital Dakar.

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 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,” his father said. “The only reproach you could have is his turning professional at 19, younger than the others.

“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.”

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.

Le Soir newspaper called him cycling’s “enfant terrible … the James Dean of his generation … an accursed star impossible to seize.”

“An exceptional champion, probably the finest Belgian cyclist since Eddy Merckx, Frank Vandenbroucke lived too fast, without noticing it, on the inebriety of success.”

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