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Bookshelf: Not so much a book review, but more Ed Hood’s memories of the ‘Enfant Terrible’ – Frank Vandenbroucke, who was sadly taken from us at only 34 years of age. ‘God is Dead: The Rise and Fall of Frank Vandenbroucke, Cycling’s Great Wasted Talent’ by Andy McGrath looks at the life of VDB.

god is dead

I’m not a Sunday Telegraph man, the English newspaper is a tad too right wing for an old pinko Scottish liberal like me, but when someone posted on social media that there was an article about the late, great Frank Vandenbroucke in the paper’s weekend magazine, I was intrigued and went out and bought one.

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Frank and Sarah

The article was promoting a book about, ‘Franky Boy’ written by former Rouleur magazine editor, Andy McGrath, ‘God is Dead’, it’s titled ‘God’ being what Frank’s legion of adoring fans referred to him as. I duly ‘did the Amazon thing’ and next day the book arrived; it didn’t join the ever-growing pile of new, unread books but was opened forthwith – I was a big Frank fan.

In case you’ve forgotten, here’s what the man won:
# Liege – Bastogne – Liège (’99)
# GC Paris – Nice (’98)
# Gent – Wevelgem (’98)
# Two stages Vuelta a España (’99)
# Three stages Paris – Nice (’99, ’98)
# Omloop Het Volk (’99)
# GP Ouest France – Plouay (’96)
# Paris-Bruxelles (’95)
# Scheldeprijs (’96)
# Points GC Vuelta a España (’99)
# twice second Ronde van Vlaanderen (’03, ’99)
# GC Tour de Luxembourg (’97).

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Gent-Wevelgem 1998

Looking at those palmarès reminded me about the recent Ronde preview I penned where I mentioned, ‘riders who should have won’. To many, second to ‘De Pete’ Van Petegem in 2003 would have been a career hi-lite, not so for Frank, he plunged into despair at the defeat – many reckon that his career may have described a very different trajectory had he won that day.

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Flanders’03 – On the wheel of Peter Van Petegem

I remember being very sad as I penned his obituary back in 2009, as I said, I was a big fan of the man, he was pure class. You’ll be able to read a revue of the book soon, here on PEZ courtesy of Leslie Reissner.

Reading the book reminded me of my, ‘Frank stories,’ – if you were around pro cycling when he was in his pomp then you always had a, ‘Frank Story.’ When I mentioned I was thinking about penning a Frank tribute to my editor Alastair Hamilton his first words were; ‘the last time I saw Frank at a race he had pink hair. . .’

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Nice colour

Where to start?
How about 2004, Het Nieuwsblad has been iced-off and a disappointed Dave, Vik and I jump in the car to visit the bike shops. But wait, what’s this? It’s the Fassa Bortolo squadra in neat two by two formation pedalling off on a run to keep the legs turning in anticipation of next day’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. It’s a bloc head wind but they’re spinning along, chatting at 40 kph. They look amazing in their blue and grey kit, no crash hats in those days – Oppy caps, team woollen hats and trendy knitted sweat bands are the order of the day for headgear. Not for Franky Boy though, he’s leading the group with an Andean ‘Chullo’ hat planted on his head, tie straps flapping in the wind. Cool.

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The Café de la Grand’ Place, Ploegstreet

Vik being the aficionado that he is tells us that they’ll be headed down to Ploegsteert to Frank’s mum and dad’s cafe. We dig out the map and next thing we’re in the village of Ploegsteert, down in Hainaut Province, near the French border. Vik’s hunch is correct and what seems like a minute or two later the Fassa film stars appear. The espressos are already lined-up on the bar; as well as Home Boy Frank there’s Juan Antonio Flecha, Guido Trentin, a young Fabian Cancellara, Alberto Ongarato. . . We’re in the company of cycling Royalty. They bang down their coffees and are gone; Frank was 23e next day at Kuurne with Flecha best of the Fassas in seventh spot behind Rabo’s Steven De Jongh.

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With Fassa Bortolo

Then there was the time we met the Quick-Step soigneur at the Belgian Elite Championships, we got to chatting and he explained to us that as well as being no mean bike racer, Frank was also an accomplished breakdancer. We asked him if Johan Museeuw did a bit of breakdancing too? ‘Nae! Nae! Nae!’ came the horrified at the suggestion reply.

But nothing surprised you about Franky Boy. When it came to ‘material’ he was a perfectionist, his less equipment conscious team mates made fun of his eternal demands for every conceivable bolt on his bike to be replaced with Ergal or titanium – only the lightest wheels would grace Frank’s bike. But his fans loved him, I remember the scenes around the Quick-Step bus at Het Nieuwsblad in 2003, when Frank stepped out it was like a rock star had stepped on stage, his adoring fans chanting his name and waving Franky flags.

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Liège’99

But despite his ‘pretty boy’ looks he was no push over. In one of his first six day races he was sitting in his cabin between events and ‘Blue Train’ head honcho, grizzled Aussie, Danny Clark came round to tell Frank how many laps he’d be allowed to take in the next chase. Frank looked him straight in the eye and replied that he, Frank Vandenbroucke would decide how many laps he would take, no one else.

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Frank and Patrick Sercuat the Amsterdan ‘6 Days’

But then there was the time he incurred the wrath of Belgian, ‘Bigs’ Johan Museeuw and Peter Van Petegem. Frank was Belgium’s protected rider for the 1999 Verona Worlds but was involved in a crash, his team mates asked if he was OK and he replied that he was – but in fact he’d broken both wrists in the crash and his ability to respond to attacks or sprint was much diminished. He finished a disappointing seventh behind unheralded Spaniard, Oscar Freire and was ostracised by his team at the finish. In a lot of pain he asked a Belgian journalist to take him to hospital, the journo obliged and after he’d submitted his copy that evening he went off for a relaxing beer, wondering how Frank was. He found a club, ambled in and there, dancing on a table, a drink in both hands at the end of each plaster casted arms was Frank…

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Verona – The Worlds he should have won

In the book there’s all manner of analysis of Frank’s demons and mad behaviour but perhaps Wim, who was Scottish pro Chris Tongue’s landlord in Flanders, ‘back in the day’ and lived on the parcours of Het Nieuwsblad, summed it up best. ‘He was living the life of a professional cyclist from his early teens – it was just too much.’ For sure, Wim, for sure. Frank Boy, troubled man, cycling star, character, eccentric, hero, we miss you.

# Photos here are not from the book. There will be a full book review by Leslie Reissner very soon on PEZ. #

“God is Dead: The Rise and Fall of Frank Vandenbroucke, Cycling’s Great Wasted Talent” by Andy McGrath is available from AMAZON.COM.

The post PEZ Bookshelf: Ed Reads ‘God is Dead’ appeared first on PezCycling News.

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