I, like many of you I am sure, were brought into the sport of cycling due to the seductive story of Lance Armstrong. A man returning from his deathbed to win the hardest endurance event in the world – WOW what a story. Arguably there is little that can be added to the monster of a story that it was and still is.
The discourse has been mounting higher and higher through the early years of Armstrong’s dominance, the rumours and his subsequent decline. However, this Mount Ventoux of a narrative has recently been capped by the release of The Armstrong Lie. This documentary without doubt slaps more layers of intrigue, controversy and questions to the ever expanding bounty of media available. One thing is clear though, the documentary shows how Armstrong tricked millions into entering his web of deceit. Road cycling literature is becoming more and more prevalent in the English/American market, but beyond A Sunday in Hell film and documentary’s are conspicuous by their absence. Step forward Alex Gibney. The project began after Armstrong controversially announced his intention to come out of retirement to promote awareness of his Cancer charity Livestrong. Gibney agreed with Armstrong to make the documentary allowing the film maker unbridled access. However, as Armstrong began his fall from grace so the documentary changed, taking a radically different tact. It begins with an overview of the early years, the Americanisation of the European pro-peloton by ‘Le Texan’ and his merry band of US Postal brothers. In tune with this, the cinematography of is undeniably from across the pond. Talking heads, Reed Albergotti, Jonathan Vaughters, George Hincapie, Daniel Coyle and Frankie Andreu amongst others, although sometimes full of cheesy soundbites do provide interesting comment. Meanwhile, there is some fantastic archive footage, Armstrong continually maintaining his innocence one on one with Gibney, suggesting he has never tested positive, a bespectacled Michele Ferrari, team briefs on the Astana bus during the 2009 Tour de France and quite sensationally Armstrong entertaining both the UCI and USADA doping testers at his home. During the documentary Armstrong insinuates that his admission on the Oprah show was “too much for the general public and not enough for cycling fans.” This is true of the documentary as a whole. I was crying out for more details, more tidbits, more admissions, yet all that emerged was the usual stories. The administration of drugs on the floor of the team bus during the tour, the hospital room ‘admission’ same old, same old. But, one aspect the documentary does explore, one which is well discussed in the written media is the character of Armstrong. Bullying, harassing, controlling the narrative. It is fascinating to see this on film. He stills performs ‘the look’ into the camera denying Betsey Andreu’s accusation that he admitted taking performance enhancing drugs in that hospital room as he lay riddled with cancer. He also still denies taking drugs or blood transfusions during his 2009/2010 comeback. For me this clearly suggested that despite his admission, Armstrong himself has not changed one iota. However, one thing has changed for sure – I doubt there are many people that still believe him. Gibney suggests in his narrative that he was no ‘fanboy’ of Armstrong’s, however the unbridled access he got during that Tour meant his peers felt he was becoming one. The documentary does have whiffs of positivity for Armstrong but in the end does portray him in the negative light he deserves. The sport of procycling has come a long way since the first and second retirements of Armstrong in 2005 and 2010. It may be too early to say but here Gibney has closed the chapter and what was tumultuous period in the sport. Maybe now is the time to leave the ghosts of the past behind and promote today’s new generation of riders. Cycling Shorts rating: 76%
Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters
Now this brief interlude – musings on Lance before the soap Oprah starts
I’ve been a staunch and vigorous supporter of Lance Armstrong since It’s Not About The Bike came out – I remember hearing sports stars raving about this must-read book, so I read it, and I raved about it too, and I made as many people read it as I could. Even back then there were rumours on message boards that maybe things weren’t as clear cut as they might be on the surface. As a general rule of thumb, I was an Armstrong groupie – I didn’t follow cycling, but brother, believe me; if you were going to start casting dark aspersions on the validity of Lance’s triumphs, I was going to be on your case.
So he won, and he won, and he won, and I was happy every time I heard about it for this remarkable man and his Hollywood fightback from the edge of the abyss. Occasionally people would say things, and I’d sneer – “he’s the most tested athlete ever,” I’d say. “And he’s never failed a test. He’s been through chemical hell – why would he ever voluntarily do it to himself?” You don’t need me to run through all the clichés, they’ve been around for a long time and you’ve heard them all before.
Lawsuits and accusations kept coming, and he kept fighting them off, and every time he won, it vindicated the truth I thought I knew. When the USADA story broke, I shook my head sadly and said to myself – “when will they ever let it drop?” Even when it was announced that he wouldn’t be fighting the charges, I still felt I stood on solid ground – they’ve finally done it, I thought, they’ve worn him down and won a meaningless victory. I felt sad for him and angry at USADA – it was like they’d been hunting this beast they feared, and when they finally caught it, I was 100% convinced that the coup de grace would show them that they’d caught nothing, a Lance into the side of an empty balloon.
So when the “reasoned decision” was released into the public domain, I snorted with derision and awaited the riposte, for surely there must be something coming – I couldn’t imagine that a man with his drive, integrity and will to win would just walk away from the fight, even if he wouldn’t put up with any more courtroom battles. There had to be something, some killer statement, some undeniable evidence that would blast USADA out of the water and end the argument for good. I knew there had to be some killer blow waiting to fall on the quivering necks of all the suits to put them out of their misery!
So I sat back with a grim smile and I waited. And I waited and waited. And nothing came out, there WAS no comeback, nothing more than fragile statements. And every day that passed, I felt the earth beneath the foundations of my Lance faith begin to grow weaker, and start to slip. And then I took the time to read the Reasoned Decision, and my little castle of faith crumbled to dust on the floor.
And the barmy thing is, I still don’t think I really feel angry about the duplicity. It’s like the “say it ain’t so, Joe” story – an apocryphal tale, maybe, but I’ll tell you now, that’s exactly how I felt; not angry, I didn’t crave justice. I just felt saddened to the core that something I held so dearly was shown to be a falsehood. I didn’t want Lance to be a villain – I had too much invested in him being the hero.
As I write, the Oprah interview has been filmed, we are two days away from the showing of it, and rumours are already floating about on Twitter about a confession. For my money, what I can’t work out is motivation – ostensibly, Lance wants to speak publically in order to be able to race again, triathlons and other endurance events. Is it going to be a confession? I don’t see how it could be otherwise – surely any attempt to continue the delusion would finish him for good. So – what else is there for him? I can see it going one of two ways – either it’s going to be a soft-peddled “I had to because everyone was doing it” flavoured confession aimed at winning the favours of a passive, non-specialist audience and keep hopes of his rumoured desire for a political career alive. Or maybe he’s going to properly tell everything – no holds barred, and let’s clean this sport up.
I would be disappointed with the first. I think it would fulfil the expectations of a public and cycling world that is rightfully cynical, and the only people who might soften their hearts to him are people whose opinions aren’t worth a huge amount to the cycling world. But what could he achieve with the second? If he names and shames other dopers or complicit members of teams or governing bodies, or at least makes it clear that that is what he’s going to do, then he will at least have done what he can to right the wrongs of his past. Redemption is too much to ask for, I think – he’s guilty of too weighty a burden to make that step, and I think the talk of returning to competition is a pipe dream at best. What I hope is that he has a conscience, that he wants to try and lay his own demons to rest, and that in his change of heart he does everything he can to identify culprits and – more importantly – uses his knowledge to work towards stopping the use of PEDs in sport, a la the remarkable David Millar. Unlike Millar, for Lance redemption might not be achievable, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be worked towards.
Stages of Light and Dark
by Bjarne Riis
I read this book for Cycling Shorts during the summer and it has taken me a long time to finally put my thoughts about it into words. Not that I have mixed feelings about the book I do not but I needed to take time to try to put into words my thoughts as I suspected that I might just be a little controversial.
I believe it is important for us to confront the issues raised and Riis was the fifth book I read in the summer that dealt with drugs in cycling. The first was Paul Kimmage’s Rough Ride, the second was David Millar’s Racing through the Dark [read Cycling Shorts review here], the third Laurent Fignon’s We were young and carefree, fourth Willy Voet’s Breaking the Chain [read my review here]. Each book gave me a different perspective or view of doping and substance abuse and its inherent and historic nature in cycling.
Each subsequent book made me feel that Paul Kimmage was being very unfairly treated as he really only scratched the surface and really did not reveal as much as others but what was clear is that he had opened pandoras box and the establishment was not happy.
What Riis has done with his book has really given a broad insight into the hard work and stresses that face a professional cyclist. Just like other cyclists Bjarne faces that difficult decision to dope or not to dope. Riis makes it totally clear that it was his call and his alone. No one forced him no one pushed him but he felt he had no option. Just like Darth Vader Riis stepped over to the darkside. Just like Lance; Riis, when quizzed never actually said he did not dope but edged answers in the same way any good politician does, “I have never tested positive, I have never given a positive test” rang out, persuading fans and team mates that he was clean. But was he, like others, fooling anyone? Probably not those close to the riders who often had a clear idea of what was happening but kept their heads down (to listen to Cycling Shorts interview with Ned Boulting on the subject click here).
As with Voets and Millar, Riis is very open about what he did and how me managed to avoid detection, however Riis goes further and deals with the effect on him emotionally of his choice. Like Millar he comes back and has a desire, or so he claims, to help clean up the sport and run a lean and clean team. The book covers the setting up and running of CSC which greatly complements the Nordisk film Overcoming about the 2004 Tour de France. Riis goes on to share his deep feeling of being stabbed in the back with the implosion of the team as the Shleck’s, Andersen, Nygaard and backroom staff plot against him and set up Leopard Trek. Once again Riis bounces back and with the drive an passion he has for the sport he loves he manages to rebuild and create a new team.
Riis’s book is a great read and I am surprised that Cycling News can write the article below. Pederson and the author of the article have obviously never read Riis Stages of Light and Dark as Riis clearly speaks out about his past in full. In my view, no he is not damaging cycling and its credibility, he has messed up and is trying his best to make amends.
Riis Stages of Light and Dark is a great read and I would highly recommend that you dash out and pick up a copy to read. 100%
Riis: Stages of Light and Dark
Vision Sports Publishing (14 May 2012)
Available in paperback, iBook & Kindle
RRP £12.99 (Paperback) RRP £12.99 (Digital)
Riis damaging cycling and its credibility, Danish UCI member says
By: Cycling NewsPublished: November 28, 2012, 17:05, Updated: November 28, 2012, 17:06Edition:Second Edition Cycling News, Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Saxo-Tinkoff team owner needs to “come out and talk”
Bjarne Riis and his teams have established Danish cycling in the world, but his actions now are “very damaging to the sport and its credibility,” according to the Danish representative at the UCI. It is “high time for Bjarne Riis to come out and talk.”
Riis confessed in 2007 to having doped when he was a rider. He has since been named as providing doping advice, if not more, in various books and doping confessions from recent riders. The Saxo-Tinkoff team owner has consistently refused to comment on such matters.
“Here in Denmark we have a single problem in Bjarne Riis,” Peder Pedersen told feltet.dk. “His team and his comings and goings have been tremendously positive for the development of Danish cycling and the resulting high interest.
“But he keeps quiet at the moment and will neither confirm nor deny the allegations that are against him, it is very damaging to the sport and its credibility. All who follow it here can see that there are answers missing to some things, giving insecurity and losing credibility. So it is high time that Bjarne Riis comes out and talks.”
Since 2006, Pedersen has been a member of the Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF), set up to work with doping cases and to stay on top of anti-doping testing and developments. He is aware of the ironies involved.
“I have been involved in the Anti-doping Foundation for six years, where I have a clear conscience about what we have done. Of course it’s very uncomfortable, it appears at the moment. Although most of it belongs to the past, we should not be blind to the fact that it also reaches into the present and in the future. With the revelations that have come, then that is what we really need to make sure to get it handled.”
Seven Deadly Sins
My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong
by David Walsh
David Walsh’s Sisyphus has finally emerged victorious over his eternal struggle with the boulder – half man, half media – named Lance Armstrong. Beautifully written, shocking, occasionally heartbreaking, often resulting in the ‘ah, of course, now that makes sense’ sigh. A vindication, indeed beacon of hope, to all real journalists eking a living out there in the nether world that professional sport has become. Ask the questions that demand asking, without fear. Cycling is a truly great sport, once a leveller, it will be all the better for the eradication of the blind romanticism, myth-making and marketing that the wearying followers of Mammon seem to pedal each and every year. Thank you David, I just wish I had said it to you when you stood almost alone. I’m awarding this book 100% just for sheer persistence!
Read this book and enjoy riding and racing your bike in 2013.
Have a warm and wonderful Christmas and a very happy New Year.
Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong
Simon & Schuster UK; Hardback edition (13 Dec 2012)
Available in Hardback, iBook & Kindle
RRP £18.99 (Hardback) RRP £8.99 (Paperback) RRP £9.99 (Digital)
As an asthma sufferer, albeit one who hasn’t had many problems in the last 8 years or so, I recently had a routine check up at the local GP practice. Taking a peak expiratory flow test, I recorded a breath volume – essentially a derivative of lung capacity – about 1/3 below that of the average 18 year old of my height.
A peak expiratory flow (PEF) test is undertaken on a peak flow meter, with a sliding dial which moves further up the measurement tab the harder you blow. I remember from reading It’s Not About the Bike that Lance Armstrong went off the scale in a PEF test, blowing the dial to the very end of the meter despite having just finished his first session of chemo. Now I know what you’re all thinking, but however you look at it and whatever you think of the guy, Lance’s athletic credentials can’t be disputed. For reference, I got the dial up to about halfway.
Lance is by no means the only cyclist with extraordinary lungs. Miguel Indurain, for example, had a lung capacity measuring 8 litres, which is 30% larger than that of the average man. 30%! Larger lungs means you can simply breathe in more oxygen. More oxygen means more oxygenated blood, which in turn means more red blood cells. More red blood cells means a higher aerobic threshold. Any cyclist with a basic knowledge of a ramp test or a time trial knows what this means. Simply, you can ride faster for longer. Other methods of obtaining more red blood cells include altitude training, or taking performance enhancing drugs such as the red blood cell booster EPO, showing the natural advantage possessed by riders with enormous lungs. It’s hardly surprising that Big Mig was such a dominant rider.
This suggests that in the same way as Usain Bolt has an incredibly rich supply of fast twitch muscle fibres and Jenson Button has reaction and reflex times dwarfing those of standard people, the best cyclists are physiologically perfectly matched to the sport we love. The one downside to this discovery is that I now realise that my poor lung capacity renders me as unsuited to flying up mountains with Froome & co. as Dawn French is physically unsuited to the High Jump. Okay, maybe not quite that unsuited, but the point still stands. Whilst it is impossible to ignore that dedication and application are of fundamental importance in obtaining athletic success, that genetics play a massive part in selecting our sporting champions is also undisputable.
Ned Boulting ©Rob (AKA Your Funny Uncle)
Click play button to listen.
Interview with Ned Boulting at Revolution Oct 27th at Manchester Velodrome. An very honest and open interview.
Ned Boulting Signed Book Competition
Ned Boulting “How I Won The Yellow Jumper” Cycling Shorts Book Review
Willy Voets ‘Braking The Chain” Cycling Shorts Book Review
Cycling Shorts Revolution 37 Report
Cycling Shorts Revolution Series website
Follow Ned on Twitter @nedboulting