The Cycleplan Blog

My opinion of Lance Armstrong – The Program

Well firstly, I’ve just been to the cinema to watch a film for the first time in well over a year, I don’t even remember the date. However, Google has reliably informed me that The Inbetweeners 2 came out in August 2014. So 14-15 months has passed without a film really grabbing me to go and pay to see it. There was something about The Program that made it a must-see for me.

I am a keen sportsman and to hear about somebody right at the pinnacle of their sport cheating for so many years, and then trying to justify it, really didn’t sit right with me. So to say I was entering the cinema with a dislike for Lance Armstrong would be a fair comment.

My change of opinion

My opinion of Lance Armstrong has changed somewhat having watched the film. I certainly don’t dislike him anymore. To be in the place he was when diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer; that had also spread to his abdomen, lungs and brain. Having just finished the Tour de France for the first time, claiming his first stage victory and coming in 36th place overall must have been nothing short of soul destroying.

He was on top of the world, living any cyclist’s dream, competing in the peak cycling event in the world. And to not only have all that taken away from him, but also his Mother to be told to prepare for the worst, and then to have four gruelling rounds of chemotherapy that left him with only a 40% chance of survival – it would leave anybody feeling absolutely worthless.

Armstrong’s cycling team cancelled his contract, leaving him both unemployed and without health insurance. Then the aggressive chemotherapy left him without a head of hair or even enough muscle mass to pedal his bike up the smallest of hills, let alone some of the world’s steepest ascents in the French Alps.

At that point, I bet that anybody in the world would want to get back to where he was, to prove all the cancelled sponsorships and contracts wrong and to become a star. Part of me actually thinks he deserved some of the success, you can’t win the Tour de France without dedicated training and unbelievable hard work and there’s no doubting that he did that. However, and it’s a big however, he and his team were at a huge advantage to all the others in the field not taking performing enhancing drugs.

The Film

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The film itself I thought was extremely well made, usually the sporting scenes in films I’ve seen before (Goal/The Damned United), both admittedly football related, were very poor. I appreciate how hard it is to make an actor look like a professional footballer, the technique when kicking a ball is so obviously nowhere near as good, so I was slightly worried that the cycling scenes maybe similar.

Whereas whilst watching The Program, not once did I feel like I was watching an actor riding a bike. The shots when Ben Foster is cycling are brilliant, and he does have an uncanny look of Armstrong, especially when kitted out in his famous yellow jersey, which does help! The way they mix in and out of real Tour de France footage and filmed footage almost simultaneously was brilliant and added credibility to the competition shots where crossing the finish line or collecting his medal(s).

I did think that some parts were slightly rushed and I was rather surprised when it ended to be honest as I was for some reason, expecting a little bit more on the aftermath of his confession and the impact that had on his life and the cycling world!

Not just a cyclist

Lance Armstrong wasn’t just an exceptional cyclist, he was also a magnificent motivational speaker that inspired millions of people to get better and also get up and continue with their life. His charity, created on the back of his cancer has raised over $580 million dollars, of which 81% of that has gone to programmatic funding that directly supports cancer survivors and their loved ones.

Just imagine how much good that money has done for; cancer research, help with treatment, help with families suffering. Whether you think “it’s dirty drug money” or not, you cannot deny the cold hard facts that this man thought of an idea to help fellow cancer patients, furthermore raising over half a billions dollars to help.

I’ve read stories, maybe you could call them conspiracies that claim Armstrong’s motive behind the charity wasn’t genuine, merely a cover up to help tug on the emotions of people. Personally, I believe that to be nonsense.

All his fault?

Was it all Armstrong’s fault? Definitely not! Were there many other teams doing the same thing, of course, just nowhere near as well! The fact is that only 2002 ‘winner’ Joseba Beloki is the only Tour winner in these seven years to never admit to doping, be convicted of doping or a related offense, or make a financial agreement to have charges dismissed. Make of that what you will.

In the movie it shows how several times Lance managed to slip under the radar, despite continually smashing the field into submission. There must have been hundreds if not thousands of people who knew Armstrong was taking performing enhancing drugs, but none of them had the courage to stand up or were allowed a voice to be heard. How very different cycling could have been if this was ended when it was a molehill, instead of being allowed to turn into a mountain, similarly as ginormous as the ones Armstrong conquered so often.

Drugs in cycling

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In no way am I defending the actions of Lance Armstrong here, merely trying to see this all from his point of view. What made him do it? Why he thought he could justify it on live TV when the truth had come out?

You only have to look at this year’s Tour de France for proof that there is trust in cycling is now in short supply. Take the winner of 2015 Tour, Chris Froome, who was a lot better than his opponents yet he was labelled a cheat by many and  even spat at by some spectators!

Even though cyclists are now probably the most tested athletes on the planet for performing enhancing drugs, Froome was still ‘forced’ to release data to prove he wasn’t cheating. This all stems from previous cheats that have tarnished the great sport forever.

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