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Wednesday 26 September 2018

How Armstrong went from hero to zero and all on tape

TRUTH: Film meant to be about cyclist's comeback from cancer turned into quest for the real story of sport's biggest drug cheat

Lance Armstrong
Lance Armstrong
SHAMED: Lance Armstrong with Oprah Winfrey
Film-maker Alex Gibney

WHEN Alex Gibney set out to make a movie about cyclist Lance Armstrong's 2009 Tour de France comeback, the documentarian admits he bought into the hype: The man who'd cheated death was coming back to reign supreme – and clean.

"All of us fans wanted to believe," said Gibney, who directed this summer's well-received documentary 'We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks'. "You want to root for people. That is what sports are all about."

In fact, it was such a positive project, Armstrong himself had a "financial participation" in the film, Gibney said.

 

SUSPICIONS

Then in 2011, things changed. The "feelgood movie", as Gibney called the original version, was nearly finished when Armstrong's ex-teammates, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis, began going public about Armstrong's doping.

That same year, Armstrong faced a US government investigation into doping allegations. Then in 2012, a federal Anti-Doping Agency report alleged Armstrong and his US Postal Service-sponsored team used performance-enhancing drugs.

It had become all too clear – Gibney needed to change the fabric of his film. What had been titled The Road Back became The Armstrong Lie, which is due to open.

"It was a lie that was hiding in plain sight," said Gibney. "But you don't want to doubt."

Suspicions about Armstrong's drug use actually began to surface in 2005, after former Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu and his wife, Betsy, testified in a lawsuit about a drug confession they heard Armstrong make while hospitalised in 1996 during his bout with cancer.

Armstrong later did his best to ostracise Frankie Andreu from the cycling world.

"Most of the facts had been revealed a long time ago," said Gibney in a recent interview at a Beverly Hills hotel.

 

REVEALED

"The question was if they had been revealed, then how did Lance maintain that they weren't true? That is what the film is about."

Sitting with Oprah Winfrey in January of this year, Armstrong admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France seven times, titles that have since been revoked. Gibney was there as the interview was shot and insisted that Armstrong come clean in front of his camera, too.

"You have to call a fraud a fraud," said Betsy Andreu. "Lance tried to use cancer to shield himself, but in my opinion, that is how he got the cancer – using all of those drugs. Growth hormones fuel cancer," a theory increasingly supported by medical research.

Has Armstrong tainted the cycling world forever?

"That's the hard part," said Gibney. "We want (athletes) to be superhuman, but we are surprised when they dope. That, to some extent, is where it falls back on us."

hnews@herald.ie

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