Early inThe Armstrong Lie, the documentary by director Alex Gibney, we see footage of Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France attacking in the rain. The year is 2000, and the Texan is out of the saddle, gliding with surreal ease away from the late Marco Pantani, an Italian who until then had been known as the best climber in the world. "Where he's found the strength," declaims analyst Phil Liggett, "I don't know!"
We do now know, of course—in blood bags and syringes of EPO. Yet that footage still has the power to thrill. It's a testament to the strength of the Armstrong story, since exposed as the Armstrong myth.
So potent (and lucrative) was the myth that Armstrong and his retinue of lawyers, apologists and attack dogs defended it with ferocity and litigation for the better part of a decade. Gibney gives us unguarded moments with some of Armstrong's most notorious enablers, Machiavellian team director Johan Bruyneel and reptilian doctor Michele Ferrari, who taught Armstrong how to use EPO. But the most riveting moments of the film show us an Armstrong we never thought we'd see—a sad, non-combative, middle-aged man stripped of his titles, abandoned by his sponsors, and explaining his serial lies: "I wanted to defend myself, and I wanted to defend the sport, the team, my foundation ... I was prepared to say anything."
In 2009, Gibney, whose films include the Academy Award--winning Taxi to the Dark Side, set out to produce a movie celebrating Armstrong's comeback that year. Filming was complete when the trickle of allegations about Armstrong's doping became a torrent that convinced even the truest of yellow-braceleted believers that their hero had been lying. Back to the drawing board went Gibney, whose final interview with the Texan was the most revealing.
EPO had swept the European peloton by 1995, and "we were just getting annihilated," says Armstrong. "There was a group of us"—riders for the Motorola team—"[and] we just said, 'We either have to play ball here, or go home.'
"Maybe I'd approach the decision differently today. But at the time, I didn't lose sleep over it."
They Said It
"Too many times, when a guy gets days off, he gets Tased in South Beach or something. We don't want any of that."
Bruce Arians Arizona Cardinals coach, discussing the warning he gave his players before last weekend's bye.
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