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8 things we learned from watching 'The Armstrong Lie'

The new Lance Armstrong documentary will be released in Irish cinemas on 31 January.

1. Journalists were “laughing” in the press room in 1999 when Armstrong won his first Tour de France


(David Walsh consistently accused Armstrong of doping — INPHO/Billy Stickland)

As he was recovering from cancer at the time, Armstrong missed the 1998 tour, which was the year that countless cyclists were charged with doping. Unsurprisingly, it was then the fastest tour ever recorded and consequently, cycling authorities were hoping for a slower race now that the sport was supposedly clean. However, tellingly, in 1999 — the year Armstrong won for the first time — the Tour was faster than ever. Hence, it’s no surprise that, as David Walsh notes in the film, even at the time, most journalists were highly skeptical of Armstrong’s feat.

2. The film takes its title from a L’Equipe article


(Lance Armstrong, pictured during an interview — YouTube screengrab)

As early as 2005, L’Equipe were accusing Armstrong of doping — with an extensive investigative piece claiming that Armstrong had taken EPO to facilitate his multiple Tour de France successes. Interestingly though, the film neglects to mention Paul Kimmage aside from his infamous confrontation with Lance Armstrong at a 2009 press conference (see below). David Walsh, however, is interviewed, and his book, L.A. Confidential: The Secrets of Lance Armstrong, which was successfully banned from shops in America at Armstrong’s behest, gets a mention too. Moreover, the doubt and uncertainty that surrounded Armstrong is reflected by L’Equipe, which the film points out, as they ran an article that contrasted starkly with their previous accusations and carried the headline ‘Bravo Lance,’ following his 2009 Tour de France comeback.

3. Betsy Andreu became “obsessed” with speaking out against Armstrong once her husband was virtually ostracised from the cycling world


(Betsy Andreu smiles at the press conference for The Armstrong Lie – Evan Agostini/AP/Press Association Images)

It is alleged that Armstrong helped ostracise Frankie Andreu from the cycling world, after Andreu decided he would no longer dope. It was the final straw for his wife Betsy, who began to make publicly known details of the Texan’s cheating.

4. The filmmaker was “rooting for” Lance


(Director Alex Gibney poses for photographers during a photo call for The Armstrong Lie — David Azia/AP/Press Association Images)

Director Alex Gibney was originally hired to make a film about Lance Armstrong’s 2009 comeback. Gibney says that while he was “not naive” about past doping allegations, he “couldn’t help but root for the old pro”. The film thus contains several interviews with Armstrong before he came clean, as well as one following his confession. At one point, Armstrong apologises to Gibney for “f**king up” his documentary. The comment is ostensibly a reference to his failure to win the 2009 Tour de France, however Gibney in hindsight describes how there seemed to be a confessional element to his comments.

5. Armstrong didn’t know what Kimmage looked like before THAT press conference

YouTube credit: Cyclefilm – Cycling Media Production

The revelation may seem odd, given that Paul Kimmage was also once a professional cyclist himself, so it surely wouldn’t take much effort to discover what he looked like. However, Armstrong was aware that Kimmage was writing scathing articles about him and also “knew that he was Irish”. He adds that, on his way to the infamous 2009 Tour of California press conference in which the two came into conflict, Armstrong received a call informing him that Kimmage was “asking all kinds of crazy questions”. Thus, Armstrong consciously prepared himself for the inevitable argument that ensued with one of his most vocal critics.

6. The film suggests Armstrong’s absent father had a considerable impact on his psyche


(A young Lance Armstrong with his mother — YouTube screengrab)

Gibney’s movie briefly looks back on Armstrong’s childhood background in Texas. He was born to a single mother and never met his father. It describes how even from a young age, Armstrong was prone to getting into heated arguments, and in one particular instance, responded to a rival’s criticism with the words “you’re not my father”. It is then suggested that Armstrong maintained this inherent disobedience from thereon in whenever he was confronted by a detractor.

7. Lance “took it easy” at times during his Tour de France wins


(Lance Armstrong holds the winner’s trophy after winning his seventh straight Tour de France — PETER DEJONG/AP/Press Association Images)

Armstrong was highly conscious of the fact that the legitimacy of his performances increasingly began to stretch credibility. Therefore, it is revealed that he “took it easy” for parts of his races when it was clear he was going to win, in order to make the victories seem more believable.

8. Other cyclists and associates were amazed that Armstrong decided to come back


(Lance Armstrong, pictured at the 2009 Tour de France — BAS CZERWINSKI/AP/Press Association Images)

Interviewees speak of their astonishment that Armstrong chose to return to cycling in 2009, when he had previously retired. It’s suggested that the disgraced cyclist might never have been caught had he decided to stay away from cycling for good after acquiring seven consecutive Tour de France wins. Even Armstrong himself told Oprah that “we wouldn’t be sitting here now” were it not for his comeback. However, perhaps it’s no real surprise for two reasons — Armstrong’s competitive urge is virtually an addiction evocatively summarised by his admittance that for him, “losing equals death”. In addition, Armstrong’s arrogance was clear — he retrospectively discusses how he was “very confident” that he would never get caught by the authorities.

The Armstrong Lie can be seen in Irish cinemas from 31 January.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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