Webber signs off with slating of Armstrong
30 January 2013
Mark Webber's final column for the BBC's F1 pages had little to do with F1, as the Australian instead lamented the fall of former cycling 'legend' Lance Armstrong.
Webber, a keen cyclist as part of both his fitness regime and adventure race competition, admits to having admired Armstrong through his run of Tour de France successes, and became friendly with the American whilst F1 enjoyed its spell at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but chronicles a breakdown in relations as it became clear that Armstrong was 'looking after number one'.
“Lance Armstrong came on to my radar during the first couple of Tours de France he won back in 1999 and 2000 - you watched him and thought 'wow, this is pretty phenomenal',” Webber wrote, “I had got into road cycling when I first came to Europe in the mid-1990s and had an appreciation of how tough those events were because I'd already done a few training camps in the French Alps that involved cycling. Then I read Armstrong's book, It's Not About The Bike…"
Having also had a brush with cancer as his grandfather suffered at the hands of the disease, Armstrong's recovery from it also held a special fascination for Webber, and he used F1's visits to Indianapolis to learn more about the American.
“I'm sure, as was the case for many cancer sufferers and survivors, that my grandfather would have found tremendous inspiration from the book had Armstrong's story been around ten or so years earlier,” he noted, “It was an incredible tale of how he got through the cancer as a person, a patient and an athlete.”
Through friends of friends, Webber was introduced to Armstrong himself, and got to spend some time riding with the American. Impressed with Armstrong's interest in F1, particularly in Michael Schumacher's run of success and the technology that made the sport so fascinating, the pair remained in touch – until the weekend that Armstrong was a no-show at the Monaco Grand Prix.
“We came to the end of our friendship in 2008, when he let my partner Ann and I down after we organised passes for him,” Webber continued, “Red Bull Racing had gone out of their way to meet all his demands, which were not inconsiderable, and had everything laid on, but he failed to show without a word of an apology. I thought it was very poor form and I was disappointed.
“Earlier in the week we had been out riding together with two of Lance's mates from Austin and former world superbike champion Troy Bayliss. One of Lance's mates had a huge shunt and was badly injured. He spent the next few days in hospital, but he still managed to haul himself down to the track on raceday. Lance was a no-show.
“That, coupled with the persistent rumours about Armstrong being a serial liar and a drug cheat, and long conversations I had had with the respected sports journalist Paul Kimmage, made me realise that perhaps he wasn't all I had hoped him to be.”
Puzzled by how the American could continually appear 'clean' in a sport addled with the use of banned substances, Webber says he felt Armstrong needed to confess to any wrongdoing two years ago, but their mutual friends always insisted that he was unlikely to do so.
“The word 'defiant' always seemed to crop up,” Webber noted, “Armstrong was defiant all the way; he believed he was clean. That was still evident in the interview he gave to Oprah Winfrey. He admitted he was a doper, but still didn't see it as cheating.
“I think what's staggering to everyone is the amount of people he was prepared to take out on the way up - people who were morally on the right side of the bridge. He wasn't worried about the ramifications and the position he may have put these people in - it was all about 'Planet Lance'.”