Two-time winner of Paris-Roubaix, Franco Ballerini, has died as a result of injuries sustained in a rally car event. He was 45.
A professional from 1986 to 2001, Ballerini won Paris-Roubaix in 1995 and 1998. The Hell of the North was also his last race as a professional in 2001.
Other significant victories include Paris-Brussels and the Omloop Het Volk. In 1993 he was second to Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle on the line at the Roubaix velodrome.
Ballerini was serving as the co-driver (navigator) for driver Alessandro Ciardi at an event in the municipality of Larciano. The vehicle left the road and crashed. Ballerini and Ciardi were rushed to the nearest hospital, in Pistoia, but despite doctors’ efforts, Ballerini died soon after.
After retirement, Ballerini became the coach of the Italian national team, guiding the Squadra Azzurra to victory at the world championship in his first year, 2002. He was able to rally the team to support Mario Cipollini, giving the team its first victory since 1992. He was universally praised for managing to unite a team whose infighting had resulted in years of silvers and bronzes.
Following Cipollini’s win, the team would go on to support Paolo Bettini to win gold at the 2004 Olympics plus two rainbow jerseys—in 2006 and 2007. The next year Alessandro Ballan made it three years in a row for Italy.
Ballerini leaves a wife and two children.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International
Agence France Presse has reported the death of Frank Vandenbroucke. The one-time great Belgian cyclist who scored 51 wins in his career was on vacation in Senegal when he died. Preliminary reports are that he died of a pulmonary embolism.
Most recently, Vandenbroucke had been riding for the Cinelli-Down Under team and had been a columnist for the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad. A byline had appeared as recently as last week.
Readers of RKP are well aware of Vandenbroucke’s troubled past. Following a stellar season in 1999 when he won Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Omloop Het Volk and two stages of the Vuelta a Espana, Vandenbroucke’s career spun out of control following an initial drug bust in 1999. His additional drug busts, DUI and suicide attempt are well documented and reducing his troubles to a handful of nouns is a disservice.
Vandenbroucke’s descent into depression and further drug use is eerily similar to that of Marco Pantani. It would be easy to reduce his story to a cautionary tale: Kids, don’t do drugs!
However, the reality is much more shocking. Our body of knowledge about the use of performance-enhancing drugs really hasn’t included the assumption that top-ranked cyclists busted for drugs will turn to recreational drugs and a plummet into depression. Following his bust, Vandenbroucke teammate David Millar says he fell into a terrible depression he buried in alcohol, but somehow he turned it around.
Could it be a pattern is emerging? Indications are Marco Pantani turned to recreational drugs following his bust for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Same for Jan Ullrich. We know Tyler Hamilton battled depression following his suspension for a positive test.
What do we have to expect from Mr. Full Disclosure, Bernard Kohl? (I’ll address his ongoing monthly interviews with new revelations in another post.)
I’ve made my peace with Vandenbroucke and the riders who won the Classics and Grand Tours of the 1990s. Given the circumstances, he was truly one of the better riders of his generation and deserves an extra measure of panache in our memories for announcing—before the race—on which hill he would attack at the ’99 L-B-L. The shot above of him at the finish has defined for many the hard-man style the Belgians are known for: the legs coated with embrocation, the shoe covers and arm warmers pushed to the wrists; only a man for the Classics can make 55 degrees look like a bright summer day.
Despite flashes of brilliance (what else would you call his second place at the 2003 Tour of Flanders), VdB never returned to his winning ways following his first bust.
Even if you hated Vandenbroucke for his drug use, I hope you can lament his death and the loss that means for cycling. He was, after all, one of our own, a guy who loved to go fast, a hard man who understood style, had a heart for the red line, and a family man who leaves behind both his parents and a daughter.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International