That initial sense of freedom

by Lorenzo Piccoli


Everybody has her/his own obsession. Some people are obsessed with power; others are obsessed with death; others are obsessed with money. i am obsessed with Lance Armstrong, because he represents all of the above. This is going to be my eighth post about him in less than four years, so much so that I am starting to think that I should create a Lance sub-category on this blog.

This time I am writing Lance because of a new movie, The Program, which is out in the cinemas now. Oddly, however, I am going to write about another, slightly older movie on the topic. If you read The Guardian‘s review, you will be told that Stephen Frears’s feature “pedals hard enough but comes second to Alex Gibney’s 2013 documentary on the subject“. I have watched the Gibney’s documentary a few months ago and after watching this new movie I watched it again – and again. I would include it among the best documentaries I ever stumbled upon, but this might have something to do with my own obsession for the subject.

Regardless of that, however, there are some bits of the movie I could highly reccommed. Not only to fellow cycling fans – my dad, Giallu, Niccolò, Alvise – but to everybody with a taste for sweet things in life, really. Even those for are not into cycling at all might appreciate the poetry that is occasionally provided in it, even that coming from an evil mind like Lance’s – the title of this post is a tribute to this part of the movie. More generally, however, I managed to find at least three reasons why The Armstrong Lie (the title is probably the only thing of the movie that comes short of creativity) is a great piece of cinema:

  1. the soundtrack – there are some bits of the movie that are among the sweetest and most exciting things I have seen in the last few years. For instance, the one-minute sequence with the peloton riding under pouring rain at the Tour of California as a melancholic Long Way Home adds the sense of misery the whole situation. Or the two-minute attack of Alberto Contador accompanied by Letra del Viento that gains pace as Contador’s domination of Armstrong becomes clearer and neater.
  2. the behind-the-scenes – it is almost unbelievable how big of an access to what we usually do not see Alex Gibney was provided with. Thanks to that, we can now see Lance Armstrong in some private moments – at home, taking anti-drugs tests; or just after a race, discussing the state of art of the completion he is taking part in – but we can also watch some other characters in their full exposure – the director of Armstrong’s team, Johan Bruyneel, swearing at Contador as he indirectly attacks teammate Armstrong.
  3. the self-critique of the narrator – Gibney explains how he, as I did, had a genuine despise for Armstrong’s approach to sports and was long convinced of his use of banned substances. But as the movie proceeds, he reckons a growing attachment to the old-pro, due to his immense charisma and dominating personality.

As I already wrote a few times before, the Armstrong story is not simply about a champion or a cheat. It is about good, evil, power, death, betrayal, and it is so fascinating that I will probably keep writing about it for quite some time.

Addendum: a charming character who appears in The Armstrong Lie is his former teammate (check out the funny picture at the beginning of this article) and current manager of the Cannondale-Garmin professional cycling team Jonathan Vaughters. The guy is one of the smartest riders around, has a witty sense of humour, and is a dandy. A few years ago he wrote a compelling article on the use of doping for The New York Times.

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