Alex Gibney’s documentary, The Armstrong Lie (2013), was originally meant as a film covering Lance’s come back to the Tour de France in 2009. But, that comeback ended up destroying Lance’s career and giving Gibney some extraordinary content, and, a drastically new direction for his film: Lance Armstrong’s Fall from Grace.
Armstrong had had his glory. In 2009, he didn’t win, but at least he made the podium. However, that shot of Armstrong waving to the gallery from the third place step, Paris’ Arc de Triomphe in the background, sparked an investigation that lead to the scandal we all remember so well. Could this guy be for real? Could a 38 year-old really come back after a four year hiatus and place third at the Tour de France without taking any drugs? The answer is a big, fat NO.
This film focuses on Armstrong, but The Armstrong Lie dives deeper into the skewed morals of professional cyclists as a collective, for context purposes. Starting in the 90s, it seemed everybody was doping… and getting away with it. What was the competition to do? Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right? Lance Armstrong is still viewed as a cheat, but so was everyone else. For ten years (1996-2006), every Tour de France champion has been stripped of their title due to doping. Mind you, seven of those years are marked by Armstrong. Even the second place finishers behind Armstrong for all seven of his consecutive victories have admitted to taking performance enhancing drugs. It’s a total shit show. The sport is still wheeling (pun intended) from the bad reputation issued by that long stretch of prevalent PED usage (EPO, testosterone, blood transfusions, HGH…etc.).
Lance Armstrong is more myth than anything else. After all, he was one the most famous people in the world for nearly a decade. Why was he so famous? Because he was viewed as cycling’s saviour. Here’s this guy, who survives cancer, and goes on to win the Tour de France (arguably, the toughest event in sport) seven times in a row; supposedly, without the aid of drugs. He was a miracle… or a power-hungry bully. A man who stopped at nothing to win, even if that means destroying the careers of teammates. For nearly a decade, Lance Armstrong was untouchable, a beacon of hope for millions across the world suffering or affected by cancer. Therefore, those who knew the truth were faced with a dilemma: preserve the beautiful lie or expose the ugly truth?
Gibney spends most of the film on giving viewers a history of Armstrong’s earlier years on the Tour de France. Slowly, he reveals tidbits of information surrounding Armstrong’s doping. For example, diving into Lance’s relationship with his doctor, Michele Ferrari, who was known in the cycling world as a pusher man. Or, more specifically, Gibney shows a news clip of the US Postal Service’s team bus stopped on the side of the road with apparent engine problems. The truth was that the entire team was being administered blood transfusions on the bus with a media frenzy only steps outside. It was insanity. They were hiding in plain sight for everyone to see. It was the normal thing to do in the sport. It was accepted among riders, but never spoken of directly, which made it into an unmentionable tie between all of them. So precarious and risky, it’s a wonder Armstrong wasn’t exposed earlier. How did he manage to live such a big lie for so long?