ESPN has followed the popular Michael Jordan docuseries The Last Dance with a film that centers on another American athlete who might be equally well-known, and even more divisive: cyclist Lance Armstrong. While he broke records in 2005 when he won the Tour de France for his seventh time in a row, Armstrong would eventually be stripped of a number of his titles following a doping scandal which saw his reputation shattered.
The two-part documentary, titled Lance, covers the allegations and eventual investigation into doping, as well as other areas of Armstrong’s life which have led to him denouncing the accuracy of the film ahead of its release (despite his own participation in interviews).
Rumors of doping surrounded Armstrong for years, from his very first Tour de France victory, and he repeatedly clashed with sports journalist Paul Kimmage and cyclist Christophe Basson on the subject. Armstrong’s public stance was that it would make no sense for him to use performance-enhancing drugs when he lived in France, which had such strict anti-doping laws and where he would be at the greatest risk of prosecution.
In 1999, a urine sample revealed that Armstrong had traces of steroids in his system, however Armstrong had a prescription for a saddle sore cream at the time, of which corticosteroids were an ingredient.
In 2004, reporters David Walsh and Pierre Ballester published a book called L.A. Confidentiel: Les Secrets de Lance Armstrong, which alleged that Armstrong was using performance-enhancing drugs, based on interviews with his masseuse, Emma O’Reilly. O’Reilly stated that she had made numerous clandestine trips to collect and deliver drugs for Armstrong, and was even asked to dispose of used syringes. She also alleged that Armstrong didn’t have saddle sores in 1999, and that he had been able to acquire a fake prescription with the help of team officials and a willing doctor.
The claims in L.A. Confidentiel made SCA Promotions highly reluctant to pay out the $ 5 million bonus following Armstrong’s sixth Tour de France win. In 2006, American cyclist Frankie Andreu and his wife Betsy alleged that Armstrong had admitted to taking steroids during his cancer treatment in 1996. While no solid proof was found that this was true, and SCA ultimately paid Armstrong and his team $ 7.5 million, the controversy was enough to trigger an official investigation.
From 2010 to 2012, federal agent Jeff Novitzky led an investigation into the allegations against Armstrong. In addition to taking statements under oath from several of Armstrong’s former team, prosecutors also enlisted the help of cyclist Floyd Landis, who wore a wire during conversations with Armstrong.
The case ultimately came to nothing, and the case against Armstrong was dropped without charges in 2012. Shortly later that same year, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) brought its own accusations against Armstrong, adding drug trafficking to the use of banned substances. Initially, Armstrong did not contest the charges so as not to bring any more public attention to the case, but USADA eventually ruled that he be stripped of all the titles he won after the date of August 1, 1998, and be issued a lifetime ban from competing.
Armstrong consistently denied any and all accusations of doping until 2013, when he confessed during an interview with Oprah Winfrey to having taken the blood-booster erythropoietin, human growth hormone, and diuretics, and falsifying blood test results.
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“Nobody dopes and is honest,” says Armstrong in the new film. “You’re not. The only way you can dope and be honest is if nobody ever asks you, which is not realistic. The second somebody asks you, you lie. It might be one lie because you answer it once. Or in my case it might be 10,000 lies because you answer it 10,000 times.”
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