The death of Topsport Vlaanderen rider Frederiek Nolf has rocked the Tour of Qatar. The 21-year-old was found dead in bed in the Ritz-Carlton hotel, the race headquarters in Doha, this morning. The cause of his death has yet to be confirmed.
Nolf was a second-year professional with Belgian squad Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator, and was widely considered to be a big talent for the future.
“He was a healthy young guy, and well respected in Belgium,” Eddy Merckx, who acts as the figurehead of the Tour of Qatar, told the press. “We’re having to report the death of a rider yet again, but this could happen in any walk of life.
“I didn’t know him personally, but am told he was a really nice guy with a great future ahead of him,” continued Merckx. “Apparently he was happy and healthy yesterday evening. And then we get the shocking news that he didn’t wake up this morning.”
The riders will ride a shortened 40km route this afternoon as a sign of respect, but it will not be competitive and won’t affect the race classification ahead of the final stage tomorrow.
Topsport directeur sportif Jean-Pierre Heynderrickx, who discovered Nolf’s body, said the young Belgian had been laughing and joking with his team-mates as usual at dinner yesterday evening before telephoning his parents to tell them that he was hoping to put in a good performance on today’s stage.
“He was in perfect health,” Heynderrickx said. “All our riders are given health checks four times a year, and there was nothing wrong with him as far as we could tell.”
An autopsy will be carried out to discover the cause of death. The Topsport Vlaanderen team have withdrawn from the race but, Heynderrickx said, may go to the stage finish to pay their respects to Nolf.