Straightforward reviews and tests of cycling, travel and related products I use on the road

The Armstrong Lie


As the long awaited documentary movie The Armstrong Lie premieres this week in Australia (and also becomes available in some tunes stores) there must be thousands of cyclists and tens of thousands of none-cyclists alike mulling over whether or not to make the effort and spend an evening of their lives regurgitating the whole Lance Armstrong saga.

These days the mere mention of the unmasked Texan villain in anything less than a very dim light opens you up to hate posts and comments; yet 15 years back anybody not giving a big moral thumbs up to Armstrong would have attracted the same response.

Most of us know that the whole movie project started out as one thing and ended up as something completely different – much as Armstrong’s story did. Director Alex Gibney set out to document the heroic return of the all American hero as he attempted a comeback to the pro peloton in 2009; and the rest, as they say is history, a long drawn out de-throning of a once perceived great champion and icon, and Gibney was fortunate (or not) enough to be there documenting the show as it went form triumph to tragedy.

It’s highly unlikely that anybody reading this does not know the bones of the Armstrong Lie, so there’s little new and revealing to be found in the movie its self. But what it does do a great job of is documenting and condensing it into one 2-hour slot, everything that has dribbled out over the past four years is summarised from the inside out and evolves before you, and with a uniform overview all through.

For the first 20-minutes or so you might well find yourself wondering why you bothered, there’s nothing really in depth there. As the reels continue to role it does become more interesting – and is slightly less biased than a lot of the media coverage that emerges, so you do need to have something of an open mind to get the best out of the viewing.

As I say, there’s nothing new, but it does bring input form the likes of Dr Ferrari, George Hincapie, Filippo Simeoni, the Andreu’s and Jonathan Vaughters amongst others, and what they do have to say, in some instances is enlightening, even if at times you take your own views based on their demeanour rather than what they say.

Armstrong himself features right through, naturally, and is largely honest and open about things, or so it would seem; apart from the 2009 Tour that is, where for obvious reasons he insists he raced clean, which is hard to swallow given the blood values.

People’s opinion of Armstrong varies dramatically; the majority have demonised him, and turned something of a blind eye to the vast majority of other convicted and none convicted riders that rode before him, with him and after him.

He was the biggest and the boldest of them, but those who took the same pill and reaped the second tier rewards were no less culpable – and what often gets brushed over by the fact that many testified against him is the fact that not a single one of them “came out” of their own accord; it was backs to the wall with their pants down, and the trade off was to turn Lance over for a slap and not a lashing, which is undoubtedly questionable.

What can’t be overlooked, and is touched on in the movie, is the fact that Lance did do a lot to raise awareness and raise funds for cancer sufferers. There are those who scream “caner shield” – but at the end of the day if he helped inspire or save one sufferer then surely it was a huge achievement. You’d be hard pushed to find any other doper who actually did anything good for anybody other than themselves.

Something else often overlooked is the fact that Armstrong almost single headedly put the sport of cycling into the mainstream outside of Europe, and a whole lot of people benefited hugely from that. Be they his personal sponsors, the Tour de France organisers, the UCI, they all benefited from the Armstrong euphoria, not to mention his teammates, the entire French tourism industry, and of course modern day riders – what you ask? Look back at the scale of the sport and rider salaries and team budgets back in 1999 and compare them to those of a few years later – there’s around 400% increase.

Had Armstrong and Co been riding for a Spanish or French team, or even not had a federally linked sponsor then things may have been a whole lot different, and what does come through in the movie is the sense that somebody wanted Lance’s head on a stick – and they were prepared to trade heavily for it.

It’s also very apparent that there is a whole bunch of people who profited hugely from his demise, and you do have to question their morals in some cases, after all they had 15 years to come out and spill the beans.

The story isn’t over yet, as we all know there is a federal lawsuit against Lance, and there is clearly a lot more to the story, which he may well be keeping up his sleeve to bargain with.

Love him or hate him, 7 Tour wins or 7 blank podiums? The worst of a bad lot? It’s hard to say. He clearly did very wrong, but then again so did most of his fellow riders and those surrounding him, which doesn’t make it right by a long chalk.

So, to sum it up – should you go and see the moves for yourself and draw your own conclusions? Hell yeah, but you’ll probably come away with close to the same opinion that you went in with, all be it slightly more beefy and informed.