A lot has been written about Lance Armstrong, a lot of it fiction (Its not about the bike) a lot of true ( he had cancer, he took drugs and he rode a bike). I am not a fan of Lance, but I did want to believe that he was the man who beat cancer and won the worlds most iconic cycle race The Tour de France. The cancer survivor who became a champion cyclist and a superstar, who’s house of cards collapsed.
The documentary starts with footage of Armstrong just before the start of the prologue at the 2009 tour in Monaco, the return of the seven time champion after a four year retirement. The question is asked why did he return? It was the driving question of the original film, but in the light of the truth on Armstrong the documentary changed into its current form. The question remained the same, did he return to compete, to do the race clean, to promote himself and his then charity Livestrong?
We follow Armstrong from the announcement of his return there is footage of his life, access to him and insight into his thinking and the team he had around him. There is an interesting insight into a strategy meeting when there is a discussion about the tour perhaps refusing Armstrong entry to the tour. Doubts about his entry were raised because of stories about Armstrong’s doping published in L’equipe. The language used by those in the room warrants an eyebrow raise with hindsight.
In order to give context to Armstrong there is a bit of back story about the man and his up bringing footage from races as a youth, some footage of his previous tour wins and then we go back to his cancer. We see Armstrong talk about his cancer how is affected him the pain he ignored, and how he faced cancer and viewed winning as life and losing as death a mentality he brought to his cycling once he had overcome cancer. A case that he must win at all costs.
In seeing this motivation combining it with the chip on the shoulder from his youth, its hard not to admire his will to win, interviews with former team mates show his cunning and iron grip on those around him. Lance Armstrong was and is a man who pushed himself to win and was able to surround himself with people who could help him achieve his dreams. But the nature of the beast is that once you had fore filled your purpose you could be discarded and it was easy to become an enemy because of what you knew. The list of people who Armstrong turned his ire on could take a long time to write out, but the main players involved in the documentary are, the Andreu’s Besty and Frankie, David Walsh, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis.
But for me it was the footage of Lance Armstrong with children fighting cancer, you could see or perhaps were meant to see the caring compassionate Lance that took away the anger I felt about his deception, because he showed himself to be human. Other scenes of Armstrong dealing with drug tests and testers while the documentary team were there, being charming and lovely, then a second day of testing is captured on a home recording and you see a more aggressive Armstrong. Part of me can’t help but think the first testing was staged in someway, to show his welcoming of the tests, to show how clean he is.
During the original shoot the Alex Gibney was charmed by Armstrong he admits to becoming a fan on the climb to Mount Venteux. Its easy to see why, Armstrong can charismatic character who sucks people into his world showing vulnerability allied with his burning desire to compete people want to believe. It is the nature of the beast that makes this a compelling watch, even in the light of what is known you can see Armstrong living the lie. In interviews given during 2013Armstrong talks about his cheating, the lie he lived and tries to validate his choice, but I could never see him showing genuine remorse. The film ends with the sense that there is more to come from this story but that this can only come from Armstrong himself.
For me the film is a compelling watch, for two hours you are given a peak behind the curtain of professional cycling. Friends, team mates and people who stood up to Armstrong all get to have there say and you too will have an opinion.