Regardless of how much of a “Flandrien” we may feel at times, ArtNouvelo is not a fan of drizzly and grey October months. Our roadbikes slowly but surely leave the house less frequently than before and the nights start to become longer than the days. The summer’s over, the leaves and the curtain are falling over the road season. Last but not least, October is the month in which we had to say goodbye to our childhood hero and cycling god Frank Vandenbroucke, also known as “VDB” (which is nothing more than an abbreviation of the surname Vandenbroucke).
This week it has already been 11 years since Frank died in the heat of Senegal. As if he too wanted to escape that drizzly autumn weather and so much more. October 12th 2009, and the news hit like a bomb. We may not remember exactly what we were doing when we found out, but we still remember exactly what we did afterwards. View and review all the beautiful VDB moments on the internet. Later that evening the homages to VDB on television. Our hero from Ploegsteert was - and is - the reason why we were glued to the TV for hours on Sundays or Wednesday afternoons. He made cycling cool again thanks to his incredible sense of style, during and outside the race. Multilingual, self-aware, high-tech, changing haircut and accessories, ... the bike rider was suddenly much more than a cyclist.
Apart from a handshake somewhere on the parking lot of the Vandenstock stadium (home ground of Brussels’ soccer team RSC Anderlecht) - was it October 2002, after a match against the modest Norwegian team of Midtjylland? - and an encouragement to make another comeback, sometime, soon, there was no personal contact. We don't really know much about Frank's complex personality, although much has been written about it of course.
What if Frank hadn't signed for Cofidis? What if Frank had said "no" to that first handful of stilnoct? What if Frank had just become world champion in Verona in 1999? What if Frank hadn’t had to wear these unnecessary handcuffs in front of the television cameras, presented like a top-of-the-list-and-being-caught gangster? What if he had just stayed home 11 years ago? What if..? What if we just close our eyes again and enjoy Frank on his bicycle? Just let the bike rider be a cyclist again.
We believe that this is the best we can do in his memory, and as a result the selection committee of ArtNouvelo has once again listed the best moments in Frank Vandenbroucke's career for you.
1. Gent-Wevelgem 1998 - The race of friendship.
VDB is on the attack together with blood brother Nico Mattan. Joins the duo: the Dane Lars Michaelsen. Character person Mattan had been on the road solo for quite some miles, when VDB and Michaelsen caught up with him at less than 15km from the finish. The two (then) „Mapeiboys“ take turns attacking the poor Lars Michaelsen on West Flemish roads, until he eventually cracks. VDB wins, but would have actually been happier if his best buddy Mattan would have taken the victory. Many years later in 2005, Mattan himself will win the race in his native region in an unforgettable way. To this day Juan Flecha does not know how he could lose that 2005 edition.
2. Liège Bastogne 1999: - the daredevil look at Bartoli on La Redoute:
VDB announced in advance where he would attack, on the Saint Nicolas, house number included. In between, a clash of the titans alike duel with Bartoli takes place on La Redoute, 60km before the end. Side by side, acceleration after acceleration, until the Italian explodes. LBL was the race that was as designed for VDB. Dutch champion Boogerd tried but failed, Italian superstar Bartoli returned home humiliated. Ploegsteert (native village of VDB) was bigger than Las Vegas that night.
We still hear the late Mark Van Lombeek say on Belgian tv "..and it will certainly not be the last one [World Cup victory].” Unfortunately, it was.
3. Tour of Spain 1999 - The flowers are for Sarah:
Left for Spain with a suitcase that contained 1 cycling kit. Marriage just called off, engagement canceled. Why race, and if, why longer than a week? The Spanish sun and an Italian beauty cause for a dramatic change of plans.
Suddenly VDB is back. Going uphill as if he’s “pushing into butter”, he finishes 3rd in a stage after German star Jan Ulrich and Spanish hope Abraham Olano on day 5, then wins himself in Teruel and goes through the final week of the Vuelta like a rocket, with another great victory in Avila and the points jersey in Madrid. For the first time in decades we have the feeling that a Belgian can win the GC of a grand tour. Not this one, but the next season. That 19th stage to the mythical medieval city of Avilla. For miles he’s taking the lead uphill, with a pace that leaves the complete elite group out of breath, still accelerates with the hands loose on the handlebars as Italian climber Piepoli tries to grab the mountain points. In the descent towards Avila he lets the elite group come back, only to sit back, anticipate and take off like a rocket on the uphill cobblestone section that leads to the fortified city. Toppers such as Ullrich, Laiseka, Tonkov, Heras, Jimenez, Olano and Zarrabeitia are not even remotely on the finish photo. The flowers are for Sarah, his new Italian love.
4. Scheldeprijs 1996 – Alone for miles ahead of a chasing peloton:
The breakthrough of a talent. The then 21-year-old Vandenbroucke rides kilometers ahead of a chasing peloton, which does everything it can do to make the race end with a sprint. The Scheldeprijs is inofficially also known as “the world championship for sprinters”. An impossible battle against all cycling laws, with a gap of only a few 100 yards. Yet he does exactly that: he wins by a handful of seconds and a heart rate of 210. “La classe”, as he put it, according to the soigneur of the Mapei team.
5. Tour of Flanders 1999 - The big three:
A duel between the three best classic riders of a generation. Museeuw, Van Petegem and Vandenbroucke. The strongest, the smartest and the coolest. Vandenbroucke hijacks the race and immediately joins an early breakaway of about 20 men. After an insane chase, that group is taken back by the peloton after a crash of his Cofidis teammate and engine of the breakaway Philippe Gaumont. Museeuw and Van Petegem get away on the famous Muur of Geraardsbergen, partly because VDB has to set foot on the ground due to a crash when turning up the “Vesten”. Out of nowhere VDB then reconnects just before the Bosberg, the final hill before the finish line. In the sprint, however, Van Petegem is too strong. The most beautiful Tour of Flanders in years though, even if not won by VDB. As a Belgian, can you be dissatisfied with a completely Belgian top 3? You can’t.
6. Paris-Nice 1998 : The youngster matures.
The Race to the Sun as it’s nicknamed. There is no sun on the Col de la République though in mid-March 1998. We see a young VDB solo in the snow, wearing the white leader's jersey. From start to finish VDB rides in white, despite Jalabert and co trying to destabilize the Belgian youngster. VDB confirms here that he can win stage races. We can’t remember which Belgian had done that prior to VDB in 1998, without going back a few decades.
7. Omloop het Volk 1999 : Liberated from Mapei.
It's another drizzly day - VDB seems to have a preference for victories in wet conditions - and Vandenbroucke takes off at just over 10 kilometers from the finish line. Wilfried Peeters still manages to close the gap, and what follows is a kilometer-long thriller. VDB-with-block-on-the-wheel-Peeters and the group Tschmil, Museeuw, Steels, Planckaert, Knaven, Van Petegem compete for a gap of 50m until the pursuers break. In the sprint, a surplacing VDB plays with Peeters by eyeing the rear cassette of the latter, and then finishes it smoothly. VDB gives the impression to have been liberated from the Mapei team orders that ever so often made him keep quiet in the group as other team members were in a winning position.
RIP VDB. May your soul rest in style.