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Lance Armstrong: The man who 'gained the world but lost his soul'

The disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong has been the subject of an ESPN documentary entitled "LANCE," which charts his rise and fall. Christina Macfarlane hears from the director, as well as a former friend.

Posted: Jun 5, 2020 2:20 AM
Updated: Jun 5, 2020 2:20 AM

Betsy Andreu is frustrated. She's just watched the first two hours of Lance Armstrong sharing what the disgraced cyclist calls "his truth" in ESPN's recent 30-for-30 documentary. She isn't buying it.

"If a man gains the world but loses his soul, is that OK? You cannot believe everything that he says," the wife of Armstrong's former US Postal Service teammate, Frankie Andreu, tells CNN Sport's Christina Macfarlane.

In 2005 the couple helped expose Armstrong's doping offenses by testifying the seven-time Tour de France winner admitted to using banned substances while he was receiving cancer treatment in hospital.

"I don't think to this day he realizes the damage he's done to people; I don't think he cares," added Betsy Andreu. "I think he missed the adulation and the fawning of the public and the media and he wanted to get back in their good graces."

In 2017, a judge ruled that Andreu would be permitted to testify against Armstrong as part of the federal government's $100 million civil fraud lawsuit against the cyclist on behalf of the US Postal Service.

Ultimately Armstrong agreed to pay the US government $5 million for using performance-enhancing drugs while the US Postal Service was paying millions to sponsor his team.

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Fall from grace

Andreu was one of a handful of former whistleblowers to take part in the two-part documentary -- directed by Marina Zenovich -- which recounts one of the biggest doping scandals in the sport's history and Armstrong's precipitous fall from grace.

"Initially, when Marina Zenovich contacted me, I asked her if Lance was participating, and she said he was. I said I wanted nothing to do with it. Because if Lance has anything to do with anything, we know he tries to manipulate," says Andreu.

"However, she [Zenovich] assured me he did not have any editorial control. This story is so convoluted and there are so many tentacles and the devil is in the detail ... So I decided to partake, not to tell my truth, but the truth."

Except sometimes "the truth" can be difficult to pin down, especially when the documentary weaves in a series of versions of events that vary depending on the teller. For the most part that's Armstrong. Which doesn't sit right with Andreu.

"I really feel that he did this to rewrite history and change the narrative," she says. "One thing that he does and he does it very effectively, is he's a good manipulator and he's very charismatic."

Throughout the documentary Armstrong teeters on the edge of showing remorse, before pivoting towards either justifying his actions, or indulging in an 'all-things-considered' retrospective, while speaking brazenly about how he was able to build a web of deceit for so long. On the subject of lies, he says:

"Nobody dopes and is honest. 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.

"Now, 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.

"And then you take it a step further and you reinforce it and then 'f**k you, don't ever f**king ask me that question again,' right? And then you go sue someone and then it's ... so that's why it was 100 times worse, 'cause we all lie."

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'Warts and all'

The documentary is uncomfortable to watch, but there's no doubt that Armstrong is a compelling subject, exactly the complex character the film's director Zenovich was hoping to find.

"What I love about the film is that he's just there, warts and all," Zenovich told CNN Sport. "He's in a different place and you can kind of, you can see what he's gone through.

"To me, someone who's not cynical, someone who came to this open feeling like he was willing to give part of themselves, I felt like he was telling his truth. Whether it is the truth, it's his interpretation of how his life unfolded."

Over the course of 18 months and eight sit-down interviews, Zenovich said the length of time she spent with Armstrong was crucial to allowing the full story to be told "warts and all" without the former cyclist deflecting.

Early on Zenovich and her team noticed that the 48-year-old was always more unguarded after an intense workout.

"The second time we interviewed him, we filmed him swimming and running first and then it was like, wow ... it was like a killer interview ... I think these people who are used to doing such intense workouts are much more settled once they've done their workout.

"Once he did that, we saw that he was more kind of 'in the chair' and ready as opposed to waiting for it to be over. He was much more settled after he exercised."

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"It could be worse. I could be Floyd Landis'

However, Zenovich admits she had a tough job trying to guard against Armstrong controlling the documentary's narrative.

"I mean there was always part of that at play," says Zenovich. "One of the great beauties of having so many interviews, though, is just having the time to get what you want.

"If I had one interview with him, it would be horrible. I mean, I didn't think eight was enough. And during the last interview, I didn't want it to be over because it could have gone on longer. He doesn't disclose everything ... but at the time you have to just keep trying to get as much as you can."

For those who've followed the disgraced cyclist's story of deceit, coverup and betrayal, it is never clear whether the Armstrong of 2020 is really any different to the one who masterminded the biggest doping conspiracy in cycling history. Especially when his bitterness towards former teammates who helped topple his empire pierces through.

Speaking of his rise and fall, Armstrong says: "It could be worse. I could be Floyd Landis ... waking up a piece of s**t every day."

Landis -- who was stripped of his Tour de France title in 2006 for doping and later filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Armstrong -- is also interviewed as part of the documentary.

"I had to come clean. He's obviously not happy about that. I don't have any further animosity towards him. I hope he's changed, and I hope he finds some peace ... I don't know why people can't move on, but here we are," said Landis.

READ: Lance Armstrong: He was a 'tragic hero'

The darkest takeaway from the ESPN documentary for Betsy Andreu is that apologies for Armstrong don't appear to equal contrition.

"He's a lost soul. I don't think he gets it. Americans ... we're very forgiving. Everybody's hung up on, did he say sorry? I think the question should be, did he reconcile? Did he attempt to make amends? He thinks that by saying he said he's sorry to people or by constantly telling the media how sorry he is that that's enough."

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