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GP Week : Issue 171
17 GPWEEK.com // 17 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: The grand prix in Austin may only be a month away but I will guarantee you the only sport people are talking about over there in Texas’ state capital right now is cycling. Lance Armstrong is Austin’s most famous resident. Back at the height of his powers which, with seven consecutive Tour de France wins, stretched for quite a time, everybody in the city wore a yellow rubber wristband, and followed the ‘Tour de Lance’ closely. Back in 2004 and 2005 I was living in Austin and working for a multinational that sponsored Lance. Some Texans will find it difficult to accept that he cheated by using banned substances, yet I’m sure there’s bitter embarrassment being felt right now in both the boardrooms and cafeterias of this and the other companies that backed his pro cycling team. Armstrong is sticking to his guns, saying he’s done nothing wrong, but the evidence and testimony of his colleagues is over whelming. He might not have killed anyone – it’s just cycling, for goodness sake – but he is in danger of becoming an OJ Simpson figure, refusing to admit wrongdoing when everyone knows he’s guilty. One man who smelt something fishy was Mark Webber. A big cycling fan, Webber was introduced to Lance through a colleague of mine. They struck up a friendship in 2005, with Mark and his partner Ann joining Lance on his Austin ranch, going on cycling trips with the Discovery Channel team in Wisconsin, returning the favour of hospitality at the Monaco Grand Prix, and joining the support crew during the Tour de France. But after seeing Lance at close quarters during the American’s Tour comeback in 2009 Webber started to distance himself. Lance wasn’t his hero, he corrected media when they brought it up. A good friend and impeccable source told me he saw Webber looking downcast in the paddock after that visit to the stages. “You should never meet your heroes,” Webber said, and it was clear to whom he was referring. Mark, I’m told, was appalled that the cyclists were ‘juicing’. “They’re all at it” , he’s alleged to have said. Mark Webber is a man of considerable integrity. If you were to nominate a moral guardian for Formula One – and goodness knows it could do with one – then I would vote for him. The BBC’s Jonathan Legard brought up the allegations against Lance Armstrong in the F1 press conference in Korea on Thursday, asking Webber and fellow cycling fan Fernando Alonso what they thought. Alonso, interestingly, was soft on the issue: “It's not easy and I think [Armstrong] will remain an inspiration for many people, whatever happened, whatever the result.” Webber, though, said what he really thought: that the man who had once been a friend had let him down by bringing the sport of cycling into disrepute: “I was a keen fan through the early 2000s. But slowly, slowly, slowly, over time lost a little bit of passion for the sport. It has been quite obvious in the last few years that this was probably going to come. It's good that they're trying to clean the sport up, and it sends a message to lots of different sports that irrespective of what you've achieved – the karma, we'll come and get you.” OPINION OPINION ADAM HAY-NICHOLLS F1 Editor DISAPPOINTED BY LANCE