VeloNews | Rider found dead in Qatar hotel

Belgian cyclist, Frederiek Nolf, competing in the Tour of Qatar, was found dead in his hotel room Thursday morning prior to the start of the race’s fifth stage, race official Eddy Merckx announced.

Nolf, a member of Topsport Vlaanderen, was found dead by teammate Kristof Goddaert in a room they shared on the 14th floor of the Ritz-Carlton in Doha.

Organizers of the race, ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation), later officially confirmed reports of the rider’s death.

The Belgian rider, who turned professional last year, would have celebrated his 22nd birthday on February 10.

Goddaert said he found Nolf unconscious and tried, in vain, to wake him before alerting team officials and a team doctor.

“I tried shaking Frederiek’s leg and told him to wake up, but I quickly realized that something was wrong. I took his hand but it was cold and there was no pulse,” said team manager Jean-Pierre Heynderrickx.

Team manager Christophe Sercu said he was unaware of any health issues the rider might have had. An autopsy is planned.

The last time a cyclist died in his sleep was in 2003 when Frenchman Fabrice Salanson, 23, died in similar circumstances at the Tour of Germany.

According to the AP report:

Belgian team confirms death of cyclist in Qatar

“We are totally shocked with this news,” team manager Christophe Sercu told Belgium’s VRT television from Qatar.

He said Nolf had no apparent health problems and appeared fine when he went to bed at 10 p.m. local time on Wednesday.

“There was nothing wrong on Wednesday,” Sercu said.

Sercu said each rider on the team is tested every four months for doping and Nolf was drug free.

According to Heyderrickx, Nolf had four medical checkups last year and was in his prime.

One can only hope that Nolf’s death was due to something natural, like an aneurysm or anaphylactic shock from an allergic reaction; but far too often deaths like this turn out to be doping related … if not EPO or one of its newer variants, then good old-fashioned blood-packing. The 2009 season has barely begun, and the spectre of doping is already raising its head … let’s just hope that it can be put back down.

My thoughts are with Nolf’s teammates, friends, and family.

Update 02/05/2009, 22:12 MST: Images from Tour of Qatar Stage 5, and the post-stage memorial service