My Rating: 4/5
Lance Armstrong is sitting in the conference room of his lawyer’s office under deposition aggressively, unapologetically denying any use of performance enhancing drugs during his career. And so starts the film about an arrogant bully who would do anything to get what he wants including deceiving the public and destroying anyone who gets in his way. This film does a brilliant job taking the viewer into the secret world of back rooms and team trailers where some of the world’s top cyclists were shooting up steroids and EPO’s while reaping the benefits of million dollar sponsorship deals.
This film highlights the media’s role in buying into the Lance Armstrong “hero” story. How his struggles with overcoming cancer and his incredible against all odds comeback made him untouchable. The media routinely ignored clues that something more sinister may be going on and continued to present Lance Armstrong as the ultimate sports champion. Those who dared to question him publicly were shunned and personally targeted by Lance.
Director Alex Holmes starts with Lance’s meager beginnings in Texans with dreams of making it big. He paints Lance as an incredibly ambitious man who saw the cycling world as a way to make huge fortunes. When the opportunity presented itself, Lance seemed to think it was a no-brainer that he would enlist the help of one of the most notorious suspected doping doctors in the cycling world; Dr. Ferrari (Yes, that is his real name). His rising momentum came to halt when he received a startling testicular cancer diagnosis. It was in an Indiana State Hospital room that Betsy Andreu and her husband overheard Lance admit to a group of consulting doctors that he had taken a variety of performance enhancing substances.
Lance made a recovery and soon returned to the sport of cycling. And when he returned, it was with a vengeance. It’s here during the seven Tour de France wins that the film gets juicy describing scenes almost too salacious to believe of midnight steroid pickups in a McDonald’s parking lot and last minute blood transfusions in hotel rooms all during the most watched and speculated event in cycling. Regardless of the rightness of his actions, the man sure was bold.
After his wins, Lance Armstrong had practically achieved God status in American sports and his brand was as big as ever. As meteoric as his rise was, so was his fall. A disgruntled former member of his cycling bitter from his firing came out and publicly attested to participating in doping and watching Lance Armstrong do the same. Armstrong was enraged and did everything in his power to fight the truth. A federal investigation was remarkably dropped against Armstrong despite first-hand witnesses to his fraud. But after a follow-up investigation was conducted by the U.S. anti-doping agency, he could no longer lie to the public. Cue Oprah and her now iconic interview in which, within the first several minutes, Lance Armstrong admitted to everything he had fought so hard to hide.
I found this documentary to be incredibly enraging and a fascinating study in what happens when we want so hard to believe in a miraculous comeback story that we are willing to ignore the flaws of our hero. There were many journalists who had sounded the alarm about the deceit but that was a narrative the mainstream media did not want to know. The more I watched, the more I was shocked at how cocky and frankly scary Lance Armstrong behaviors were. As disturbing was this story was there was one hero that emerged from it all: Betsey Andreu, the wife of a former Postal Service team member who for a decade dared to expose Lance’s conduct. While everyone else that knew of the fraud was scared into silence, Betsy Andreu remarkably stood strong and was never willing to back down. As Betsey says in the documentary, “what Lance never hard was the truth.” If there is one clear conclusion to be drawn from this, it’s that Lance Armstrong no doubt was a talented athlete but an even more talented liar.